The Gray House, Week 10!

The picture of the House, I’m not sure it was specifically done with The Gray House in mind. I found it here, but I liked it.

I am realizing I never included a picture of Tabaqui. I found this one by Angel T. This artist is amazing. So sad we can’t know more about him/her. His/her drawings capture the souls of the people we meet at the House.

It’s been 10 weeks already. Reading the book has ended, but our experience at the House will live forever. I hope to keep discussing different aspects of the book as I can, or as others maybe make it to the older posts, who knows, I hope we stay in touch with each other, with Yuri, and that we hear news on Mariam and the House from time to time.

I also have one more post after this week 10 one. I couldn’t help but ask Yuri some questions about his translation and about the book. He generously agreed to answer them. I’ll be publishing them in a blog post soon, stay tuned!

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WEEK TEN

Week 10 (pp. 671-721)
WEEK 10 AUDIO: cuts 51 – 63

Noble’s Tale: Remember Noble asking Tabaqui to send him to another loop, at the risk of forgetting everything? In his tale, Noble is somewhere strange. He is dressed all in black, with notes in a journal he cannot decipher. He gets a lift to the crossroads, and there a bus that takes him to a café. There a woman calls him “you poor forgetful little Jumper.”

The place he wants to go, Blackwood, is useless. Noble describes the place as mysterious, as existing outside of reality. He takes a bed there and spends six months there, waiting.

The residents of the place are described as temporary and permanent, the first are also called tumbleweeds, the second transients.

He’s working odd jobs. He says he helped a photographer with the bulky cardboard backdrops by the beach. Until he’s called to the repair shop. Cars and pieces are very expensive and they never trust anyone with them, but he is called to wash a car. He knows from the very first moment that he is in danger. There’s a car wash by the corner. The car is a black car (but this car has nothing to do with Godmother’s). As Noble washes the blood in the car, he tosses a severed finger he finds in the water bucket.

Noble has to leave. He gives away all of his belongings to Mockturtle (I believe she’s the daughter of the owners of the guesthouse, called Roach Motel.) He knows that if he survives this cold, that’ll be a great adventure. He’s calling the Forest, but a voice says, “That’s not the way to call it,” scared, he looks for his journal inside his backpack, and this time, in the dark, he can read it clearly. Blind shows up and welcomes him home. Blind is wearing a Yellowstone Park t-shirt, and he’s smiling, or maybe scowling, Mariam writes. This is the last paragraph of the chapter:

“Hello, Blind,” Noble said, recalling everything he had not been able to remember for the past six months. “How did you find me?”

Blind laughed.

“I didn’t. It was you who found me, you forgetful Jumper.”

Ginger’s Tale: Ginger’s tale is connected to Noble’s tale. Ginger lived in Blackwood too, not at the Roach Motel, but at a eatery. She was looking for a guide, but she did not know what he was supposed to look like. But before she finds her guide to the Forest, the Grayfaces snatch her and she lives at the basement of their house. The Grayfaces are dangerous drug addicts and dealers (I assume), to me, they sounded like the people in A Clockwork Orange (but I’ve only seen the movie ages ago). Living with these abusive Grayfaces annulled her ability to scoff at them, (I read that as to rebel and try to escape.) But one day there’s a fire, and taking advantage of that, she manages to escape (even though her face got burned too. She disguises herself and changes her appearance, and in her search for money and a new life, she sees Noble. She thinks he is the guide. But she realizes he’s forgotten who he is.

She visits him one time while he sleeps. Ginger wants to kill him, but she fights those feelings, and she wakes up in the Forest. He helped her go without even realizing it, just because the Forest is always close to him. Ginger hates him for that. She only spent 10 minutes in the Forest, but she says she knows she’ll spend her whole life thinking about it. She’ll always be a Jumper, an unstable one, but she was very lucky to have found a guide. Last 2 sentences:

But there was still one thing she was proud of: she never asked him for anything. Not then, and not since. And she never would.

Smoker (Continued): This is Smoker talking, saying what’s around him. He is in the room, there’s the people, their stories, the sandwiches, their reactions. He narrates Vulture story to us, about a disgusting witch, dancing on the graves of all her relatives. (It sounds like Godmather’s story, and she was told to be his grandmother.) Ralph interrupts Vulture asking him how the old hag looked like. At this point, when Vulture mentions a dwarf, and the former principal giggles and inquires if there were any dwarves in the audience. Who is this man?

It’s Black’s turn. His tale is just the story of the Outsides and the escape plan in the bus. The way he justifies his story being a fairy tale, is by calling those two who gave him fake driver licences, fairies of sort. R One is furious, he asks Black if he thinks that the slammer is a nice place for getting acquainted with the Outsides. Black’s plan can end up wrong. Tabaqui calls everyone to attention. Smoker is missing the beginning of Noble’s tale, and, as usual, he doesn’t seem to be paying lots of attention to anything, or he is just reading things in a superficial way.

Then Shuffle tells his tale about performing for gigs, and Tabaqui declares a break. Mermaid loves Noble’s tale, and Black, but Smoker argues with her about what he doesn’t like about Black’s bus plan.

The lady that came with the dwarfish man starts talking about Angel (Alexander), and the Holy Elder that was taking care of him until the commune fell apart. They have found their Angel once more.  Smoker thinks of Alexander. This couple are sitting on his bed. Smoker remembers what happened that strange day, and he says he would have believed him an angel too if he had known this information the couple is sharing. He thinks Alexander is very patient, for he, Smoker, may have hanged himself if he had those around him like Alexander has, wanting miracles from him.

Smoker loses his place, and bumps into everyone and everything trying to find another place where to sit.Lary and Needle are there, she is looking beautiful with her wedding gown. Noble is squeezed between Smoker and Vulture, and both Noble and Vulture are having an emotional moment, crying over something Smoker has no idea what it is.

Red’s Tale: Mysterious chapter about Death coming to people as a man, or a young woman with black hair (Rat?) They are the basilisks, able to bring death with their eyes. Which can also be seen as drug dealers, right? It’s a poetic description of those ’emu’ people we talked about.

Tabaqui’s Tale: A tale about a man that seems to me to be Tabaqui’s alter ego? Many would like to meet him, but only those who seek tirelessly can. He keeps music inside conchs, and dreams in empty gourds.  The old man can also be a mummy for however long he wants.

The lucky visitors receive gears from broken watches. He gives presents, but not easily, until a boy asks for something different, a dream, and years later, he asked for an egg. That was unusual. The boy did not bore the man, and boredom is something he hates. Sometimes he gives presents to himself, as to surprise himself and to break the monotony of his life.

Smoker (Continued): This continuation is also full with important pieces of information, as all of them are telling their stories and saying goodbye. Blind doesn’t tell a tale, he wished all of them luck whether they were leaving or staying, leaving thinking they were staying, or staying thinking they were leaving. He also asked for two volunteers, one experienced guide for the inexperienced guide, and a caretaker. (Is he asking for Noble and Ginger?)

Those who leave in the bus, leave now. Smoker was given presents by everybody. There’s another very strange exchange between Blind and Ralph. And Blind gives Ralph a grubby brown envelope telling him, if you change your mind, open this.  Blind took the guitar left by Shuffle and played.

Smoker fell asleep, and Sphinx woke him up. Sphinx looked like he did not sleep at all. Smoker realizes there’s nobody, only Sphinx and himself, and there’s something wrong about that. Smoker learns that there’s another big group that left and stayed back. Neither dead nor alive. They’d be called Sleepers.

There was no graduation day. There’s a search going on, and interrogations to those they found (Smoker and Sphinx, and also Lizard, Guppy, Dearest, and Dodo.) Smoker says that the third had the most loses, with the Sleepers being moved to the hospital side. Smoker’s and Guppy’s father start visiting them, and also Ralph. The memory of Tabaqui seems to have evaporated. Smoker is having troubles remembering him too. Only whatever Tabaqui left as a present (whatever he gave Smoker, or wrote in Smoker’s journal as a present, remains.)

Smoker got closer to those who remained in the House, but not Sphinx. Sphinx seems to have troubles coping with life. But Sphinx hit it off with Smoker’s father, who brings him back to normality. Finally they are all picked by his parents. Smoker is not clear about who picked Sphinx, except that it wasn’t his parents. Sphinx tried to get Mermaid’s information, addresses, etc. And they went.

Epilogue (Tales from the Other Side): Three tales, The Man with the Crow, The Waitress, The Three -Fingered Man in Black. The first is a weird story about a couple dropping children The woman seems to be Rat. The man doesn’t drive, and he tells others who ask about the children, that some half are his sister’s. When they part with the last child, the man is sad, but Rat says he’ll have his own some day.

The Waitress is a strange story of a woman who works and who is criticized by her peers for taking a bit of a break, and not going straight back home to her baby. Her baby is a wonderful baby who seems older for his age, weird, called Tubby. The father is described by her as the Beautiful Prince from the Not-Here.

The Three-Fingered Man in Black is someone who takes residence in an abandoned three-story house. He was hired by the owner of the house. One day, a surly young woman in leather came to visit this man and

brought a small fair-haired girl, offloaded her, and roared away immediately This event turned the people completely against the man.

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This picture and other images of the House, from here.

Between the Worlds: Spnix is at college, and he doesn’t seem able to find Mermaid. He lives like a hermit. Until one day he visits the House.

“I’m sorry,” he’d say. “You seemed to me a monster that devoured all of my friends. I was sure that you’d never let me go. That you needed me for something known only to you. That I would never be free until I left you, even though I lied to Smoker about the freedom being inside a person wherever he happens to be. I was afraid that you changed me, made me into your toy. I needed to prove to myself that I could live without you. I blamed you for Elk, and for Wolf. Elk was killed by accident and Wolf was killed by Alexander, but it was easier to think that it was your fault than to admit that the fault was with Wolf. That he was neither kind nor wise, the way I imagined him to be. That he wasn’t perfect. That Elk wasn’t perfect. Easier to blame you than admit that. Easier to say that you killed thirty-odd people than to see that they were cowardly fools or little children who had lost their way. Easier to think that it was you demanding Pompey’s death than to imagine that it gave Blind pleasure to kill him. Easier to be sure that you forced me to remake Noble than to know that I liked doing it…Easier to hope that Blind lied about Mermaid than to concede that she really does not exist in this world,…

But back to his dorm, Mermaid is waiting for him, hurrah!

Voices from the Outsides: All these people appear in this chapter: Smoker, Horse, Black, Red, Needle, Hybrid, , Smoker’s Father.

We have different snippets of these people and their lives in the Outsides. It happened that those in the bus left the House for a commune. Lary and Needle left the commune. Needle is ready to move on, but Lary still has ties. Smoker is a painter, he is still in the lives of others, Black left the commune, Red is the commune’s leader. We get some information about the Sleepers. Smoker doesn’t want to visit them, some of them do, some don’t. There’s a taboo about them. (Do you think they are ‘crazies’? and nobody wants to be associated to them now?) Sphinx visits the Sleepers, he is a child’s psychologist now. He has a German shepherd dog, a guide dog that trains other guide dogs. He gets along, Sphinx, with Smoker’s father. Smoker’s father likes Sphinx because he lets him take care of him, unlike Eric, his son. There’s a child, the spitting image of Blind, I believe Sphinx is taking care of him, and Black is upset about it, accusing Sphinx of  maybe stealing the boy, as he also stole someone else’s father too.

The last paragraph is enigmatic. Smoker says he has lots of questions and wants to go to Black for answers, but Black won’t, he is vulnerable, he’s worked hard at building this protective shell. He could go to Sphinx, and it’s frightening, because he may then receive answers. But he won’t go to him. He says that Sphinx

has been given a choice, a choice he has been denied. And he says that his world will always be different. Not the same as Black’s and mine. We can never forgive him for that.

The Happy Boy: I do have no clue about this chapter.

In the room they call Stuffage, a seven-year-old boy woke up one early morning.

His twin brother is by his side. He is different. He looks much older. “More corrupt.” Black Ralph would say. But that doesn’t offend the boy.

The Encounter: A young Stinker is having fun in his room, with his gadgets, his games. The Seniors don’t pick on him, he has listening devices. The nurses scold him and punish him, though. There’s a freshly painted sign that says Welcome! 

A boy and a woman dressed in white approach the place. The boy sees colorful confetti on the ground (Stinker detonated that confetti in his play.) The boy imagines someone inside the House shouting “Hooray!” (That’s what Stinker had shouted from the room, with his spyglass.)

And now the floor is yours!

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104 comments on “The Gray House, Week 10!

  1. The key to the last chapters (and to many other happenings) is in Tabaqui’s tale of the Master of Time (that is, himself) and partially in the mentions of “other loops” that are scattered through the books.

    Loops are basically lives that are slightly different from the one we know, that are happening at the same time. We are not aware of them, just as “we” on those loops don’t know about this one.
    Now, The Master of Time’s two gifts, the gear and the feather. The gear allows its recipient to remember something about this loop while being on another one. There are two people in the House who don’t want to continue living here, but return instead to the House in a point in the past (while remembering their present). Noble wants to come to the House earlier than he did, becoming one of the Sissies, meet Ginger and live next to her – “the same, but with me in it”. He received his gear and is prepared to go through with the plan, until on the last night he understands from Ginger’s tale that she already loves him, and he doesn’t need to go anywhere. The other person is Vulture. Ever since the death of his twin he was trying to reach the Master of Time (who can only be reached from the Other Side) to beg him for a chance to go back to when the brother is still alive, and failing (despite all the “drugs” he invented and consumed). Noble overhears his talk with Sphinx and gives the gear to him.
    So, the happy boy is Vulture who got his wish – his brother is alive, and since he (vaguely) remembers it not being so, this is what “fills his soul with delight”. It might be that he wouldn’t have to die now, that Vulture would be able to prevent that.

    The feather is the opportunity to go to a different loop and come back. This is what Sphinx receives, and he uses it to pull Blind, as a small child, from another loop and bring to this one, to fix Elk’s “mistake” of failing to anchor Blind in this world. (Red is envious, because he would have used it to pull out Ginger).

    The waitress is Ginger, she and Tubby are waiting for Noble to find them and take them to the Forest (bring them over completely). He will, though it takes him some time (this is what leads to sleepers disappearing in our loop – them being brought over completely).
    The children in the truck are what used to be the House’s Insensibles (children with mental impairments); they are regular children on the Other Side, aged according to their mental age. Humpback has led them away and is placing them in foster families (“inexperienced guide”), aided by Rat (“experienced guide”).
    The Man in Black is Ralph; the brown envelope that Blind gave him contained the documents to the Other Side counterpart of the House and allowed him to move there (“this latter position is permanent”). The girl that Rat brought to him is Godmother.
    The very last chapter is Stinker on a different loop meeting Grasshopper for the first time, except this time everything is not going to happen the same way (and Mariam even said that Grasshopper is not armless there).
    Sorry for the telegraph style; I hope we’ll discuss all of that at length.

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    • Oh, Yuri! I’m so excited to finally understand this loop thing! The only thing I understood, was the last scene. I thought it was Tabaqui meeting Grasshopper, but it looked so different, much happier. I remember Grasshopper at the beginning of the book, and how he told his mother that the House, despite being in the sun, was cold.

      I knew that Tabaqui was the Old Man, and that he moved in time, but I did not quite understand that there’s an alternative life in those loops happening at the same time.

      So Mermaid also finds Sphinx, right? And that’s what it means that Sphinx was given a choice. Now I understand why Vulture was crying there with Noble, and that’s what they were asking of Tabaqui.

      I also thought the twins were Vulture and brother, but not knowing one of them, Vulture, came back to the past, I was concerned at him being described as he was, even though he didn’t mind that.

      And Blind has the papers because Elk gave them to him? In any case, he has the papers of the House, and Ralph finds it and takes a young girl, Godmother, there!, neat!

      I also saw that Noble and Ginger were together in the story, but now I’m happier knowing they’ll eventually make it to the Forest, with Tubby, right?

      And the experienced and inexperienced guides, cool! All those babies are the sleepers, disappearing in what you call ‘our loop’.

      Now I’m clear as to the fantasy/reality thing. I don’t have to explain all the fantastic as hallucinations, and reality doesn’t have to have all the killing, etc., to explain what happens to people, now we have alternative realities or loops, and that is as if reality expands to more than we see. I also am so thrilled with the feather/gear thing. That’s why Tabaqui doesn’t like watches, he doesn’t live in time, and that’s why he says that he’s lived several lives while he is still young, -and now we get the months or days being years! It’s a fascinating concept, one that makes the book so round.

      We can start putting the pieces together, friends!

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      • With Mermaid and Sphinx I think it’s more of an Orpheus/Euridice thing; Sphinx went to the “underworld” and brought her back, but since she really is not of this world (she hatched out of the egg that Blind got from Master of Time, with useless legs which she later gained control over – there’s Tabaqui saying “didn’t she used to be a wheeler though” and a mention of physical therapy in her chapter), she has to spend some time on the Other Side – Smoker says “one day she’s there with him, and the next day she isn’t anywhere, and her disappearances can last for months” (shades of Proserpina/Persephone/Kora here).

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      • I haven’t really given a thought to where Blind got the papers from, but now that I think of it, could they have been unearthed by Tabaqui’s archeological explorations? I mean the old documents to this-side House, of course, and Blind realized that they would work in this capacity as well and took them with the view of taking care of the other-side House after the graduation.
        You know what, I’ll ask Mariam if this is something she knows about (not necessarily; some of my questions have already brought a reply of “I don’t know”)

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    • The Man in Black and the Egg were the pieces I needed. Whew! That stupid egg was driving me crazy. Now I want to know why Blind would ask for a Basilisk egg, though? Was he hunting for Death? Did he not know what it was? (I could see him asking for something unique or powerful and Tabaqui handing him a basilisk egg with a smirk!)

      The gear and the feather… those are interesting. I missed so much of what was happening with Noble. He is an enigma to me.

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      • I think he asked for a mermaid egg; Old Man says “let her out into a stream”. But he didn’t want a fully-formed real mermaid, which is why he only incubated the egg for 20 days instead of 40 – resulting in a “tiny” girl who just had some problems with her legs (but real mermaid hair).

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    • Wow, Yuri, thank you for filling in the gaps.

      I did not fully grasp what the gears and feathers meant – how they functioned. I didn’t understand why Noble gave the gear away. How lovely that it was because he realized Ginger loved him and he didn’t need to go anywhere.

      And I didn’t understand the significance of the egg that Blind received. So that was Mermaid, and she is of the Forest. And I love the connection to Euridice. I’m glad Sphinx didn’t look back! Lol. All this time, I’d been thinking of her as Anderson’s Little Mermaid, and I suppose that works to the point of her being from another world, but now with Euridice and Orpheus I understand how it is that she was able to come back to Sphinx.

      It puzzled me why Ralph would go to the other side and especially why he would accept Godmother into his care. Ralph is a bit of a mystery to me – more than the others.

      I was so moved by Vulture’s last chapter: “He did not know yet that this feeling would stay with him for a very long time. It would become less sharp, almost mundane, bat at times would strike him again with the same unexpected force, like a soft blow, making him gasp in wonderment, filling his eyes with tears and his soul with delight. He also didn’t know that he and his twin were now and forever different from each other.”

      Having experience loss that almost killed him, having his brother back creates an eternal well of gratitude in him. The melancholy tone of the final sentence perfects the rest of it. He got his wish and he is joyful, but there is a small loss too.

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  2. Orpheus -Euridice, yes!, and I like your explanation of the papers being the result of the archeological diggings Tabaqui does.
    So that is why he tells them stories and legends?, He talks to them about other loops, right?
    Yuri, is Tabaqui Ancient? (And he disappeared as he did again after this graduation, to reappear as Stinker?) Because he gave an amulet to a boy, like in the Old Man’s Tale.

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  3. It’s amazing, the details. Yes, Mermaid’s nick must come from her not having legs (functional legs), and not being of this world, and falling in love with a human… I remember that, Yuri, she was a wheeler (wasn’t she?), when she met Tabaqui at the exchange day, and she gave him that colorful vest, and he gave her the necklace. And when we were introduced to her, she was doing physical therapy.

    If I read the book with this knowledge, I wonder how many more things I’d understand and find in it that I missed the first time. (I would not have enjoyed reading this by myself, without your help, I would not have gotten 1/10th of the book.)

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    • I can’t help it – I know my own text almost by heart now (not in a sense that I can read out passages from it verbatim, but if someone gave me a quote and a word would be out of place, I’d most likely spot it), so the details jump at me as they wouldn’t at anyone who’s read it less then, I don’t know, 5 times?
      I was even inventing my own thoughtful parallels – like, for example, I was so taken with the symbolism of feathers (Ginger/Jonathan and Tabaqui’s gift) that I thought the fact that at the first meeting with Smoker Tabaqui goes spinning in his wheelchair and a small feather flies out of his hair and lands on Smoker was significant (it wasn’t, of course).
      (I don’t know if you’ve seen/heard of it, but in Tarkovsky’s movie “Stalker”, overloaded with symbols, there is at some point, inside the mysterious Zone, a black dog traipsing through a muddy field toward the main character; when in some interview Tarkovsky was asked “What did you mean by the dog in the Zone?” he answered “What I meant was that there’s a dog.”)

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      • Translating gives you a unique intimacy with the text. As for the thoughtful parallels, I believe that books (and movies), so pregnant with symbols, are so rich, that the unconscious of the author works in mysterious ways to awake even more of those symbols in the readers. It makes me laugh to picture you with one of those ‘findings’, and Mariam telling you, ‘I didn’t think of that’, or ‘I don’t know”, I’d be laughing/crying, and shaking my head.

        I’m still pinching myself, trying to believe we have you here with us, Yuri. Your comments have been such a help, so phenomenal, they’ve come at the right time!

        I cannot speak for others, but for myself, it’s wonderful to know that ‘you cannot help it’, to know the text so well, and to find so much meaning in it, even more than Mariam herself, ha ha ha. It feeds my need to talk about the book, and continue the discussion.

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    • Yes, Yuri, it has been such a delight to have you join our conversation. I can only imagine you sitting back and smiling over some of our more outrageous conjectures. 😉 It has also been a huge help, especially right here at the end. Those scenes are flashed so quickly and erratically that it’s difficult to even sort them out, let alone figure them out!

      I cannot wait to reread this book with the insight I have now. I find myself seriously considering flipping back to the front and starting all over again. It’s a crazy time commitment that I really can’t make now, but I think Tabaqui would find it fitting. ❤️

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      • I have the same desire of starting the book right now, but I can’t.

        Would you, “my fearless pack” like to read the book again next summer? Right now all I can do it’s to keep carving some time to comment and talk about it. (Thinking about it is something continuous.) I have managed to read one book after this, and it felt a bit flat.

        I am grateful to know all of you who agreed to read the book, have loved it. Thinking about this, it was pretty crazy to ask for reading buddies for a 700+ pages boom I had not read.

        I still remember how nervous and giddy I was the day Yuri showed up.

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      • Actually, quite the contrary – I was mostly amazed by the level of the conversation; I’ve been lurking in the Russian fandom forums for a while, now they regularly produce some really amusing stuff.

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      • It would be fun to revisit the book in a year. Right now, I’ve been living so intimately with it that I can’t even imagine what it will be like when it’s not woven into my life everyday and my memory has dimmed. I also think it would be fun to go back to some of our early conversations and see our impressions and guesses.

        I am so very thankful that Helena posted about your book club on IG. I never would have known and would have missed out on such an enriching and fulfilling experience. I can’t imagine reading this on my own and I have cherished getting to spend the summer with you all. Thank you, Silvia; I have so enjoyed getting to know you more.

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      • Same here, Katie. It was such a surprise, your first comment. I was so impatient after the first post, I thought nobody else was reading. It’s not easy to read along least to stop to comment, with all the many things in our lives.

        I am thankful for Helena, yes, thanks to her I have been able to know you better, and I am glad to have found a kindred spirit in you.

        What a wonderful summer this will always be!

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      • I remember when I first posted, I felt very conspicuous because no one had posted yet and I was stepping in uninvited and barely knew you. But I posted anyway because I was dying to talk about the book. lol

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      • I would love to reread it next summer. All my other books feel flat and one-dimensional right now. I guess it’s good that I have book group deadlines to force me to read right now, or I would just sit and sulk that nothing else is The Gray House.

        Silvia, I can’t stop thinking about it either! This morning I felt like a sleepwalker; my body was at the grocery store, but my brain was exploring and luxuriating in The Underworld. (That could also be because I was operating on 4 hrs sleep. 😴 )

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  4. It’s like the black car. it ended up being a non important thing, but she wrote black car, and we knew Godmother’s car was black, so, enough to set someone on a false path, ha ha ha.

    (I cannot wait to know more about Alexander, though)

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    • Alexander is a dead end; this is almost invariably the first question people ask, and the answer is invariably “I don’t know” (from one interview: “I, for example, still have no idea where Alexander went. He simply vanished. Not that the others have been much more cooperative, of course; I think that if not for the presence of Smoker, the most “normal” of my characters, there would be no ending at all. Everyone else resisted for as long as they could.”). He is not among the Sleepers, he did not go to a different loop, he didn’t leave with the bus.Since he’s a Strider (one of the five mentioned by Blind in the alternative ending) he could have just slipped away quietly to the Forest, becoming some kind of creature there, by himself and out of sight of everyone including Blind. Or, conversely, he and Chimera could have walked out of the House together during the night and lived in the Outsides happily ever after (I’d like that).

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      • I’d love that too. He and Chimera, yeah!

        I’m thankful then for Smoker, thankful for his questions, and even for his annoying ways sometimes.

        Out of nowhere, and despite how horrible he was to these kids, I feel so bad knowing that Shark has cancer. And Gaby? Did she have a baby? (Red’s or Blind’s?)

        Last post before others come, I don’t want to monopolize the conversation, -ahem, -grin.

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      • I hope Alexander has a happy ending. I like both hypotheses. It would be so lovely for him not to be alone and to have someone who understands him. Even more, I like what Sarah says because he needs to accept and embrace who he is. He is powerful and good and I so want him to believe that.

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      • OOOOHHH! I just realized that Alexander got what he spent his life so fervently chasing… he disappeared from public view. He is finally able to be alone, to be himself without anyone else’s desires forming him.

        Oh.

        I have a lump in my throat.

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      • Oh, wow. You’re right. It is especially powerful that Mariam doesn’t even know what happened to him. Her character did just what he needed to do and longed to do apart from her willing it. I’m so glad you thought of that. It is exactly right and it makes me very glad for him.

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      • Yes, Sarah! He got it, he’s out of public view, yay! I’m sure he’ll heal his insecurities, and he’ll find who he is, maybe he heals animals in the Forest. (I hope he puts some weight, you know?, lol)

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  5. I finally came over to this post, but I have to say that I haven’t actually read anything beyond your introduction because I saw that drawing of Tabaqui staring at me, and I seriously lost it. You are not kidding about Angel T’s talent. That picture is Stinker at a soul level. I’m literally crying over it right now, and I think I’m just going to take that image with me and close my computer for now. Come back tomorrow and venture into what you’ve written. Thank you for discovering that work of art, Silvia.

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  6. I love reading your narrations after I finish the section, Silvia. Your words make things click in my mind. You said at the Last Fairy Tale Night, “Smoker loses his place, and bumps into everyone and everything trying to find another place where to sit.”

    I think you summarized Smoker’s whole story right there. He comes the House, finds his pack, loses his place (I would add that at FTN and in the book, he actually chooses to leave his place and then immediately regrets it as he starts being buffeted and stepped on!), and only slowly is able to find another—more ill fitting—one. I do think that he eventually regains a place in the pack as he is able to entwine himself to some level of faith. That new place isn’t easy, though. I thought that was what he meant when he said that Sphinx “has been given a choice, a choice he has been denied. And he says that his world will always be different. Not the same as Black’s and mine. We can never forgive him for that.”

    I think he meant that Sphinx was fully accepted by the House and given the choice to cross over and stay forever. Smoker and Black, the eternal outsiders, are never fully accepted. Even though they are not accepted because they refuse to accept, it still hurts. Like Black offering the bus for escape, they want the camaraderie without having to accept anything that they cannot see. I think Smoker takes a step of faith after the Alexander incident, but it’s too little, too late.

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    • Sarah, thanks for saying that. (Thanks Katie for your reassurance too.)

      Sarah knows me, and she knows how much I long to be accepted.

      I didn’t think about it until you wrote this, but it rings true about Smoker and how FTN described his whole situation at the House. I think you are right about Sphinx’s choice that Black and Smoker didn’t have. Remember when Smoker said he was a black sheep, like Black. Black is a pragmatist, a realist, he represents, in my eyes, those who live for the body (he lifted weights) and who don’t feed the mind that much.

      Smoker, as you say, gets there a bit too late. There’s a comment when he witnesses Alexander’s turning into fire, or the mysterious event at the canteen (?), and someone says that he seems to be part of the pack (I think Tabaqui.)

      Smoker’s fragments of the tales, his inability to narrate well, to remember details, or to remain awake, tell us who he is. He even remarks that in Noble’s tale there’s Blind’s appearance, and it doesn’t make sense, when I thought it was perfect. (Blind is the Forest, and it cracked me up to see him with a Yellowstone t-shirt.)

      Back to Katie’s remarks, Black and Smoker don’t have faith. The Blind sees in the Other World, those with sight don’t. Sphinx games when he was Grasshopper, were a training of his faith. He saw and heard what others didn’t. I am thinking that Smoker’s problem may not have been what he asked, but HOW he asked. He asked without conviction, he wants a type of answer, and Sphinx wanted to open his mind, however, to me, Sphinx also wavers a bit between both worlds.

      For the “unbeliever” part of me, do you know that I looked this up, and there’s a Blackforest, Canada, and Yellowstone Forest is the States, bordering Canada, isn’t it?

      Another thought was how sad to see Smoker and others not remembering Tabaqui well. When we grow, we forget, or discard all or much of the magic of our childhood. There’s that faith that makes us vulnerable. Humpback aludes to that tension between individual and pack. To be of the House means that your thoughts are not your thoughts. That’s what Blind steals, their identity, in the sense that the pack is defined by its Leader. Humpback, I guess, wants to have private thoughts, maybe break off with the House. To some extent, they are playing a role, a game, and he is tired.

      Even Tabaqui is tired as they grow up and graduation gets close. Graduation makes it difficult for all of them to keep believing. Sphinx recorded my own experience when he says that he is tired of the House. I too felt the tension to be unbearable. But after a while in the ‘Outsides’, I too came back to the House, like Sphinx, and tried to look at the walls, and see if I could find and read the messages, look at the paintings.

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      • That is brilliant, Silvia – everything you said about Smoker. Yes, it was Tabaqui who said he sometimes gets the impression that Smoker really is one of us. But he concludes with, “Rarely, though.” I wonder how things could have been different for Smoker had he lived at the House from childhood. Or would he have just been another Black? Look at Noble who came late to the House. He is one of the biggest believers and he was at the same disadvantage as Smoker. Maybe it is simply in their natures to believe or not believe. I don’t know.

        “Smoker’s problem may not have been what he asked, but HOW he asked. He asked without conviction, he wants a type of answer, and Sphinx wanted to open his mind.”

        Really good point. He was always asking questions and as time went on, he stopped because they were not well received. The Soot of the Streets chapter was all about listening to what is truly being said when someone is answering you and saying what you mean when you ask a question. It’s like Smoker was always asking questions with the answer already in mind and when he didn’t get the answer he was looking for he rejected the true answer. He is closed minded in a way that even Black is not, I think. I mean, look at Black in the end. I think he is ultimately an outsider; he doesn’t share the history of the others, but that bus was a dream and a leap of faith – and I love him for it.

        I also experienced that fatigue of the House, and yet I keep going back!

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    • This is exactly how I saw Smoker in the last several chapters of the book. He gets to a place where he really is trying, (like when he goes to see Tabaqui’s collection – he makes an effort to engage in that scene, I think) but he can’t muster the faith he needs, and then he sees Alexander’s transformation and he knows he was witness to something extraordinary and it does change him, but not enough and not permanently. I think Alexander wakes him up to the truth that there really is something beyond his rational five senses, but ultimately he just doesn’t have eyes to see. I felt such compassion for Smoker by the end because I felt like he almost didn’t have a choice. He wasn’t flat out rejecting the truth, but he couldn’t grasp it and make it his.

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  7. I am still amazed at how Mariam managed to leave the reader to decide if to experience the House like Smoker, or like those of the 4th.

    Without Smoker’s voice, I guess we would have a fantasy book with time loops and alternative realities? But Smoker, in his encounter with Shark, sees him as a real shark, and he had those dreams too, as if he was more opened to the House. I don’t know if he became more unwilling to believe, or when, or if fear did that to him. (Remember Blind telling Humpback that it’s those who experience fear at the wrong time, those who are rejected by the House, or whose bad dreams become reality to them, and they can die?)

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    • Yes! I wanted to say something about this last night, but I was just too tired. I love, Love, LOVE the alternate conversation between Blind and Sphinx that Yuri shared with us. At first I could not understand why Mariam didn’t use that instead of the Coffeepot location, but I think I do now. Throughout the book, she has been committed to offering us a choice: what will we choose to believe? Will we cling to the magical or to the realistic? She offers evidence for and against both in a subtle dance, never making it easy to decide how we will interpret what we’re seeing. The cut scene would have changed the rhythm of the dance, coming down heavy-handed on the side of magic. I think the ambiguity itself is the heart of the book.

      Katie asked, “Who is this book really about?” At first, I thought it was Smoker’s coming of age story. Later I thought it was Blind’s triumph as he led the believers to the other side. Katie suggested it might be the story of Tabaqui, Master of Time. I thought last night that it was the story of Sphinx, who manages both to believe and to carve a life in our world. Now I actually think that it’s my story. And yours. I think Mariam weaves this incredible world of magical, gritty realism for the reader. She shows us enough for us to doubt and enough for us to believe. Then she leaves each reader to make a choice. Will we side with Black? Smoker? Sphinx? Blind? Who are WE as revealed by our own reactions to this story?

      (Ha! I guess that makes Mariam Tabaqui. Oh, I love that, and that idea makes me so happy!)

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      • Ooh, I settled on it being Sphinx’s story, but nothing can compare to what you just said. Wow, that is so good and so beautiful!

        Smoker rather anchors things, I think. He’s the story teller who introduces us to the House and sends us out again. And what Silvia said is so true – we need Smoker the skeptic in order to experience this world in a meaningful and satisfying way. Tabaqui is like our spiritual guide. Without surveying the book right now, I say with some amount of confidence that he provides us with the most clues and answers. And the events of the book really center around Blind and Sphinx.

        My mind is bursting with so many things I want to explore now that we are, but I need to exercise patience and take it a step at a time.

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    • I would even say there’s an entire spectrum of attitudes to the House mysteries, embodies in the individual characters of the Fourth.
      Smoker: “I am sure there’s nothing except the Game, and all those silly fairy tales are just born of boredom.”
      Black: “Whatever these people have, I don’t even care if it’s real or imagined. I’m not playing.”
      Noble: “Ooooh, Jumping! Cool! Now let’s see what we can do with it. It’s harmless though, right?”
      Humpback: “So I’m a Jumper? Oh well. I guess you got to do what you got to do.”
      Sphinx: “This is dangerous and unpredictable stuff. You guys do whatever you want, but I’m keeping away. My life is not there.”
      Tabaqui: “And so it repeats. The House is ever the House, with all its paths and mysterious ways, and I am ever in it. Now let’s play.”

      And the book can be read from any of those points of view and still be consistent.

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      • That’s so true! I see how I myself have bounced from one point of view to another, and I’m still doing so.
        Mermaid liked to hear all of the stories, Sphinx told her he personally preferred Tabaqui’s.

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      • The skeptic, the pragmatist, the fatalist, the realist, the idealist. And at times, they all came out of their paradigms a little.
        Sphinx, the reluctant Jumper. He could have been a Strider, but his heart wasn’t in it. Sphinx was in it because of Blind. Elf told him to be Blind’s ‘eyes’. Exactly. Sphinx had a choice, and he made a choice, the Outsides, (as a cripple, according to Blind.) Instead of taking care of Blind on Blind’s world, -unpredictable-, he becomes a child psychologist, and takes Blind out of the House in his loop.

        A distinction. Blind submits himself to a higher authority, The House. That’s why, as bad as killing is, his killing of Pompey is not penalized by those in the House, on the contrary, it’s what keeps him as uncontested Leader. But Wolf was bad because he thought of himself, right?, he did not care about Alexander being safe, or did not want his healing powers for others, but just for him. I think that has something to do with Blind not liking him. Wolf is not obeying the House rules, or submitting to his authority. Sphinx, in his last talk as he visits the House, admits not having seen that Wolf wasn’t perfect, or even good. However, he says that Blind got pleasure in killing Pompey. (That’s the time when I became very upset with Blind.)

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  8. Red and the commune or cult. It was fitting, right? Red ticks all the boxes for a leader of a commune. (His pack was his cult.) Just be careful not to mess with Gaby!

    Lary and Needle became suburbs burgoise, lol, Needle in particular. I find them both very sweet, I know they are great parents.

    Smoker could have gotten there, maybe he needed more time. Noble believed straight away, yes, but I think believing is related to where you are physically and mentally. I mean that Noble went through a lot more than Smoker. Those vulnerable, in need of others, connect with the faith, while those more capable, rely upon themselves, and this Other Side doesn’t appeal to them. Have you noticed how they don’t have their handicaps in the other loops?

    I am stretching too, but with my faith, the more capable I feel, the least I depend on Him. The spoiled Pheasants lived only at that superficial level. (I remember the part before graduation when they are described as munching their greens, their salads, and weren’t they described also as advanced students? But once they had a death in their midst. Suicide? , pressure to perform suicide?)

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    • Yes, Red! He seemed more than willing to go out and be the shaved heads’ new god. I’m not sure yet what I think of the whole commune thing. On the one hand, it makes sense. They sorta made a new House for themselves, but is it healthy for them? Once again: I gotta go back and get a firmer grasp on those last chapters!

      Hadn’t thought about it till you mentioned her, but I wonder what happened to Gaby! Or am I just not recalling her presence at the end? Quite possible.

      I like that. It is only too true that when we feel most capable is when we are most independent and it often takes limitations and loss to wake us up to our need.

      I appreciate the faith you have in Smoker. I hope he could have gotten there. I wonder what it would take for him.

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      • Gaby doesn’t show up in the end, but I am thinking she has to be there, maybe out in the world.

        I think the commune was good for them, some could transition to a more ‘normal’ life, those unable, would be taken care by Red and the others?

        Smoker’s, what will it take? (I think his father was detached, but, as it often happens in real life, the bond he didn’t have with him -Eric Zimmerman, right?, he is having with Sphinx!)

        Smoker is a painter. He got half way there, he seems to have channeled his experience at the House into his art. I don’t think he’ll get there, maybe he is just at the right place, to tell his tale, so that we can learn by contrast.

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      • I did think it was lovely that Smoker became a painter. And yes, the fact that his work is influenced by the House does say something about him. Artists are often outside of the community, commenting on the community, so I think that is fitting for him. Although I do question his depth – I’m not sure he has an artist’s soul. But then again, I can be too judgmental!

        I think I mentioned before that I’ve been reading Brideshead Revisited this summer. Both books contain an artist who is an unbeliever being called to believe. I haven’t finished Brideshead yet because this book completely overshadowed it – not because Brideshead can’t compare. It’s incredible, but in a quiet way and The Gray House took over my mind. I look forward to seeing how Charles’ story ends.

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      • I know what you mean, Smoker doesn’t fit fully in that artist role, lol, maybe he’s copying Tabaqui’s style, ha! (He may be living off of the things he saw.)

        He seems successful, Sphinx doesn’t miss any of his exhibitions (like the time when he studied the walls of the House, or maybe for sentimental reasons), I don’t know if he’ll change as he gets older, or if he will always be Smoker, with his Pheasant vein.

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      • You’re right. The House is inside him and has influenced his way of seeing, even if he is a skeptic. He was really mesmerized by the paintings on the wall when he was with Black in the darkness. Was there any other scene in the book where Smoker was moved in that manner?

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      • I don’t remember, but I know once he was at Vulture’s tent, he was a mix of scared and thrilled. He wanted to jump, but he never did, however, he got his feet wet for sure! LOL. (I’m laughing because depending on who he was talking to, his experience as a ‘kitten’ was terrifying, or amazing! (It was probably both)

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  9. I am going to print out that alternate conversation and keep it in the back of my book. I find it incredibly satisfying to my soul in a way I can’t quite put into words. While I was reading it, I was reminded (once again) of what a poet you are, Yuri, and how grateful I am for the beauty of this translation.

    Silvia, another friend, and I once spent hours arguing about works in translation — whether it was “the same” (whatever that means) as reading in the original language, what was lost, what was gained — and she said that reading a translation might even be better than the original because you get the author’s words and the translator’s “commentary” based on what and how he translates. I heatedly disagreed, but I think I was wrong. I can’t read the original Russian to compare, but I do feel like something of your voice, Yuri, has infused this book and it is a beautiful thing.

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    • Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is one of the nicest things anyone has said to me ever. I just feel myself incredibly lucky that my life has left me in possession of sufficient tools to be able to do this.

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  10. Yes, I remember well that conversation with Sarah and another friend… I can’t never express well my thoughts on translation. I know that translating is like birthing a book again. I know Yuri didn’t write TGH, but in a sense, he did write TGH. I just think translators are way undervalued, specially those who translate literature, as they have to be good ‘writers’ themselves. It’s an art, a dance, you can not usurp the writer’s pen, but you can not just know the languages well.

    There’s many choices and decisions a translator has to make, and that forces him to have a deeper relationship with the text, book, or author. I read your statement, Yuri, and I know what it means to a T, I know what it is to look at your life and wonder at how it is that we have gotten to a place where we are able to translate, because it’s more than knowing a language, it’s being between two worlds, so Yuri exists in one loop as a Russian reader, and in another, as an English writer-translator.

    I recant of something, Sarah, there’s of course something special about reading something in its original language, that’s that you get to be your own ‘translator’, ha ha ha, all I wanted to say that day, it’s to look at the amazing magic of translation. There’s good translations, not so good translations, choppy translations, blowing your mind away translations, but we should never feel as getting second best. In this case, Yuri’s translation is encouraging him to look at more details, and those ‘differences’ will give us further clarifications and more cultural knowledge, etc. I know that he had the privilege of talking to the author, and that infuses the translation with something special.

    I consider translators like Yuri on par with writers, as I say, they didn’t have the initial idea, but they re-birthed the book, which it’s a creative process with difficult constrains. A chef, for example, is asked to create a meal with certain ingredients. A translator is asked to recreate a meal, and he doesn’t have those quality ingredients, he has to look for them himself, and sometimes they don’t even sell what you need at your local supermarket, it takes courage.

    In Yuri’s case, to have a well written book that’s contemporary to you, Yuri I’m sure, it had pros and cons, but I can only think about the ‘pros’ (Mariam’s Russian is close to your Russian, than say, a book written in the 1900’s, and her time is your time, though there’s nothing easy in this.) For me, translating Charlotte Mason is a lost battle. I have to revive a corpse, I’m always torn between saying it how she did, and frowning at the not so fresh Spanish, -and fearing I’ll be accused of opacity, the irony!, or flying an inch above the text, and trying to clean up a bit the mothball English, to, at least, choose a bit more straightforward sentences, or a word in Spanish that’s a bit less archaic. It’s not going to be a ‘super easy to understand translation in some places, I’m afraid. I’m not pleased with it, but sometimes I feel I’m going to leave it as it is, because my brain is fried.

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    • Your thoughts on translation are so fascinating, Silvia. I totally want to print it out and stash it someplace – the pages of my commonplace book or something – because I could read it over and over again. As someone who can’t speak more than one language – some broken German, but that’s it! – the idea of being so fluent in another as to be able to not only sufficiently understand, but to beautifully express and translate the nuances and idiosyncrasies of someone’s thoughts astounds me.

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  11. I ditto Sarah!, Yuri is a POET! The book you gifted us in English, has a quality that transcends translation. I guess we say that when we forget it’s a translation, right? To me, it was conceived like this, in English, ha ha ha. Your word choices in many places were beautiful. You say Mariam wrote a wonderful book, but you found its twin in English.

    Some are called to find things, some are called to be messengers of those findings! I’m thrilled I chose to read it in English. (I’ll buy the book in Spanish, I’m curious, but I don’t even see a translator’s name in the copies I see on the Internet. I wonder if the translator took the time to know about the culture around the book, and to learn about Mariam.) If you don’t have the full picture, the context, I doubt how well that translation reads. Given that I know what I know, I’d probably be able to see the soul of the book in Spanish too, but I want to see if it’s captured the book as I know it.

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    • I have often hoped that you will someday read it in Spanish so you can tell us what it is like! I just can’t believe that it would be as beautiful – not because of the language; though I can’t speak it, I love hearing it; it is beautiful – but because, as you’ve both said, Yuri’s language is so poetic. There is so much that simply sparkles and makes me say, oh wow, and makes me love a sentence simply for the beauty of it. I can only guess, but I believe that the spirit of Mariam’s writing is so well captured and conveyed on these pages, and I can’t thank you enough Yuri, for submitting yourself to such an undertaking. I know it must have been done with such love, and we are so much richer for it!

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      • You know, Katie, I too doubt the Spanish will be as well done. Like you, some of the sentences were simply perfect, perfect, achingly beautiful. Now, if you also get the audio, -oh dear me-, you’ll be in trouble. I am having serious problems desiring anything else. Sigh. I replayed Tabaqui’s first chapter, his favorite things chapter, 4 or 5 times. I don’t know… I’m close to needing therapy.

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      • Haha! I’ve thought about getting it. How is the narrator? The reader can make it or break it for me. With the relationship I’ve formed with this book, I’ve been somewhat afraid of hearing it read by someone else!

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      • I fear I’m going to be reading the Spanish, reading the English, getting furious with some renderings, re-writing it in my head. (I have not found a group of fans in Spanish, and the translation into Spanish happened much earlier, in 2009. But I also don’t want to jump the gun so early. I respect translators.)

        In Spanish, I only found a group who tried to do a book club too. But most of them quit reading. They found it too confusing. Only one wrote a review and said towards the end, he got some answers, and that it was worth the effort. I understand not everyone is meant to like it, but given my experience, it’s a difficult book to read alone, -specially if you don’t have a goal, or faith in it-, it took a while for me to trust the book, I admit, but not because of me (I was fine being tossed and challenged), I felt a pang of uncertainty because of you (except Katie), because Katie chose to read it herself, but I felt responsible for asking my friends to do this with me. I did not doubt the quality of the book, but you know, sometimes we cannot invest ourselves so much in some paths.

        That’s why, -given that we travel to Spain as we are planning this November, I will want to read with all of you again, and I may do the Spanish book, and we may find ourselves some surprises there, or some questions for Yuri, ha ha ha. In any case, Katie, I’ll tell you all about it, no doubt.

        The narrator is FLAWLESS!, he helped me give voice to the book. And this is another level that gives depth to books. To me, the audio sets a high quality tone to the book. (If I start by just reading it, sometimes I have a hard time with picturing how these people sound. But just listening, I lose the richness of the language, the ability to stop mid sentence, or re-read it right away.) For me, I got the humor and zest of Tabaqui thanks to the narrator. Do you remember when he waxed that poetic explanation of what’s happening with the leaders of the packs?, that part that Black, I believe, ‘translated’ for Smoker? The narrator had a fast paced voice, with so much gusto, and sarcasm… I would not have perceived his tone, had it not been because of the audio. Audios help me hear the people. The same with Northanger Abbey, I’m listening, and now I’ve transitioned to reading, and finally, I hear the humor. (I read Pride and Prejudice in Spanish, when young, then in English, not long ago, and I bought it in Spanish this past weekend, -I found an excellent copy-, and I’m determined to finally hear the humor. I heard some of the humor in Emma, and now I’m liking her books more.) At times, though, I just simply move on to other writers, because I will always be a bit of an spectator to that British culture. My soul is not fully there, it’s not as grabbed as it is when I read certain authors (and it’s not exclusively the language, though many of my favorite authors write in Spanish, because a language is not just words, but it’s the flesh of a culture, its soul, its ancestry. So I need my Cortázar, my Vargas Llosa, and others close to my time, to understand Spain and her sister countries (or our bad family ties), Galdós more than Victorians, picaresque Spanish literature more than Dickens, and the Russians are also close to my reader’s heart.

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      • Next time I read it, maybe I will go with the audio. Right now, I’m afraid it would be too much like seeing the movie and thinking, wait, that’s not how I pictured that guy. Although I admit, so much of the art I’ve seen does perfectly capture the characters….and obviously the audio is still the book, not a retelling!

        Yes, Austen is so subtle, and I can imagine how some of it just might not culturally transfer as well as some authors do. I’m speaking with a large amount of ignorance, but I could see that with her. I adore Emma, not the character, really, but the book. It’s probably my favorite of hers. Funny because Emma is not one of my favorite heroines, though I do gain affection for her.

        And not to drive this conversation totally off topic (too late?), but a few weeks ago I read an article about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and I thought of you and meant to send it to you. It was about how, ultimately, Tolstoy’s the greater artist. We have both professed love for Dostoevsky above Tolstoy, but the article made me want to read two of their works side by side with the author’s points in mind. I have only ever read Anna Karenina, and that was when I was 19. Inspired by Sherry and her French literature plan, I’m toying with the idea of making next year a heavily Russian one.

        Not that it should be discussed here, but this is the article for anyone interested: https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2009/09/tolstoy-and-dostoevsky-and-christ

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      • Katie,
        #1 This is my House, and I make the rules! huh! You can comment on Russian lit, or the debate D versus T anytime.

        #2 What.an.article! He said what I felt and I could never have expressed that well. I agree with him 100%, which doesn’t mean that, ‘taste wise’, I’ve been drawn to read more D than T. But now, like you, I do want to read War and Peace. I don’t find this as outlandish as he says. I think it’s very clear that Tolstoy is a greater artist.

        I do agree with Borges’s criticism too. That psychological realism, or whatever they call what D writes, it’s hocus pocus. When I read D, I think I’m just being privy to his mind, all the women are the same, even the men, which doesn’t make it less fascinating, but it’s undeniable that D doesn’t write credible people, or doesn’t construct universes.

        I have only read Anna Karenina, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I remember those thoughts Dolly had in the carriage, back from visiting Anna. I agree, Dolly is a ‘real’ person, period.

        I’ve always thought D is very messy, ha ha ha, maybe that’s why he is fascinating to me. I have only read Cancer Ward, for example, and to me, Solzhenitsyn shares with T that ability to create a universe, where people have a life of their own. We experienced the same with TGH.

        His quick remark about Zola’s realism leaves me intrigued. I have to read Zola and decide if it’s not realism, but, as he says, a cover up, a mix of what we associate to ‘reality’ that’s hiding his lack of artistry. I don’t know. One has to read and decide. All I know it’s that Galdós, who is called a ‘realist’ of the magnitude of Dickens/Zola/Tolstoy (he’s been compared to them), gives me also that ‘real’ quality through artistic means. His dialogues are just people talking, while D’s dialogues are so contrived, ha ha ha, and fascinating nonetheless. My friend Kim, after reading this summer Brothers Karamazov with me, told me, “I don’t know, I guess I should learn more about Russian history, how the women are, etc. Do you think they are like in D’s book?”, I said, “NOOO”, ha ha ha. (Not that I know how Russian women -or the women of D’s times- are or were, but nobody can be like D’s women, specially the women, OK, not even like the men, or the children! I always think of D as a hyperbolic writer. He truly makes my heart beat fast, when, for example, we are in the room at the trial in BK, or when the policeman interrogates R in Crime and Punishment. (Excuse my abbreviations.)

        I find the same distinction between, say, Wilkie Collins and Dickens. Even though they are not neck to neck, I don’t think, WC has gained (in the small circles I observe) readership, but though he moves us, and there’s lots of emotion and mystery in his novels, (and he loved D, he even co-wrote a novella with him, and he was devastated when D died), WC is not D. D’s worlds and people are credible, they have a life of their own, period.

        As for the loyalty that Orthodox people pay to D, good point, but it’s, like the writer of the article notes, something over-imposed by the Orthodox themselves, don’t you think? I never find D clear enough in his religion proposal. Like the article’s author says, his religion felt more to me like Russian mysticism, or a product of his epileptic hallucinations. I’m serious. Oliver Sack explains that those with epilepsy, after some hallucinations, have become mystics or very religious (though sometimes the opposite.) In T, like we have found in TGH, I find concepts and ideas that point to me to connections with my christian faith. This because of T’s art, which no doubt, takes the reader to these great questions in life, faith included, but not a particular dogma (does it make sense?) But if we make connections, or find affinity with D because we are Orthodox, that’s great too, but not a reason to claim he’s at t’s level.

        To take offense because of an objective and well founded assertion of the superiority of Tolstoy, is to give yourself an unnecessary cause to elevate your high blood pressure, and proof of our inability to discern and apply an objective scale and set of values. Nobody is going to deny me the pleasure of loving D, maybe I even love him more now, because of his imperfections. Plus, we can have them both, no quibble. Sometimes there’s painters I love, and they have one master piece, yet I adore a smaller work.

        Poor Zola. Is he really that gray?

        This is such an interesting topic.

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      • I left for the grocery store and came back to more goodness than I can ever hope to reply to today!

        Messy is the perfect word for Dostoevsky and everything you say about the construction of his novels and characters is true. I think he was so intent on communicating all the ideas and contradictions raging inside of him, and his characters are merely the vehicles for those thoughts. He was a beautiful, tortured soul, and yes, his Christianity was sometimes a confusing, mystic jumble, but he was nothing if he was not earnest. I think his task was to shake us up and make us feel the urgency and broken beauty of this life. I hope I get to meet him someday. 🙂

        Musically speaking, I’ve always preferred the Romantics, but as I age, I find more and more beauty in Bach’s precision and orderliness. His musical genius is unsurpassed and his music speaks the language of heaven. Tolstoy is Bach. And I like Tolstoy, and I like Bach, but I think I will always prefer Brahms and Puccini, just like, I suspect, I will always prefer Dostoevsky. And perhaps it has a bit to do with the fact that I am an inwardly very emotional person, but outwardly very reserved. Perhaps I admire those who can spill all their passion onto the page because I feel so constrained. I don’t know.

        I’ve never read Wilkie Collins, but he keeps coming to my attention in recent months – perhaps I need to. If Collins is Dickens’ Dostoevsky then I really should. Please, don’t anyone throw a book at me, but I really don’t like Dickens. (sorry)

        Oh, now that I am talking about Dostoevsky, I am welling up with that feeling I get for him sometimes. He’s just – I just feel some sort of protective love for him that I don’t know how to put into words. He went through so much in this life, and all the strife and madness and genius was poured into some of the most fascinating and thought provoking and emotion provoking works the world has known – books that make us better people.

        And I was thinking that if I do this thing next year, I don’t even know what I will read. War and Peace is an obvious choice, but part of me wonders if it’s not better to reread Anna K. Sometimes I think about how many books I will only be able to read once in this life and how sometimes it is better to read fewer works if it means going deeper with the ones you’ve read and be able to reread them. With Dostoevsky, I could really pick just about anything. I had a Dostoevsky kick in my twenties, but now I haven’t read him in over a decade! That’s hard to believe. And I want to read the Pushkin that Yuri mentioned. And Solzhenitsyn has been on my list so long, but I don’t know if it will be Ivan D. or Cancer Ward. But yeah, I feel a fire in my soul for these books right now!

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      • True, Katie, we have very similar tendencies. Bach is my favorite, but that may very well be because I have not listened to a lot of great music, I feel inspired to listen to Brahms and Puccini. I’ll tell you how that goes.

        The great thing about Wilkie Collins is that he has some super long (that don’t feel long) books, and many short ones.

        You nailed D. I also feel a loyalty and devotion for him that is unscathed by my admission of Tolstoy’s genius. Not to copy cat you, but I’ve also contemplated re-reading AK instead of going for War and Peace. I also think about my reading, and like you say, I’m more for re-reading these days, but I also want to try authors I know that I’m going to get much from, or books -new or re-reads, by my favorites.

        I don’t favor Dickens (apart from his amazing Christmas Carol), and I also prefer Jane Eyre to any of the Jane Austen titles I have read.

        I forgot some titles you mentioned much earlier, that I wanted to read. (Or did I type them when I made a list of the books Yuri mentioned on his and Mariam’s behalf? It was East of Eden, right? But please let me know of another titles, and little by little, I’ll get there.

        After reading together with you, and knowing all this about your favorites, I think I can safely say that you will love Cancer Ward.

        Now, can we claim that artistry in writing, the ability to arrive to something complete, is better than the compelling and passionate sharing of one’s inner messiness/humanity/turmoil? After asserting that T is superior to D as a writer, and stating that what D does cannot be ‘justified’ by coining terms such as psychological realism, I am back to another thought whenever this pair comes up. Can one compare apples to bananas? If we count the vitamins and nutrients, we can say that one fruit has more health benefits than a different fruit, but, does that matter? (Specially when we consume from all fruits.) I mean, I know that guava is considered, -for real-, one of the best fruits one can eat, but I rather eat watermelon. I love reading D, period. Something clicks in my inner being as I read his words. Tolstoy is very neat and orderly, but his character, Anna Karenina, is hard to swallow. I’m glad that the book has Dolly and the older guy who marries the younger girl? In D’s books, the bad guys are raw, sometimes they inspire compassion, but in T’s, the bad woman is more calculated, I don’t find anything redeemable in AK. It’s like Madam Bovary. I’m glad I read the book, I found refuge somewhere there, in the descriptions of the country side, in the lessons learned, but I end up as if I had been run over an 18 wheeler. Mercy!

        I love talking about books, but I also feel bad, because I don’t want you or anyone to feel overwhelmed with the possibilities.

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      • And it’s not so simple as Tolstoy has true artistry and Dostoevsky doesn’t, but I guess that opens up a huge conversation about what art even is! They are both superb in startlingly different ways. And, writing in the same time and place, they are remarkable compliments to each other. In your food analogy, yes, we prefer certain foods simply for how they taste to us, but whether we are eating guava or watermelon, broccoli or kale, we are consuming something wholesome and sustaining. We are healthiest when we eat all four, rather than one or two, so – as you are getting at – we can acknowledge the greatness of one artist without preferring him to another. We can enjoy and find value in one writer without him having our heart. And like you’ve said too, there are certain artist’s that simply resonate most with us, and those who do are the ones who are going to change us most. Who cares if Dostovsky doesn’t have the order and finesse of Tolstoy, if Dostoevsky is the one to light a fire in your soul!

        And yes, it was East of Eden. It’s another big book. If you’re curious to read Steinbeck – I don’t remember if you’ve read him at all? – The Winter of Our Discontent is an entirely different book and so much shorter. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s superior to East of Eden. Winter of our Discontent is a smaller, quieter book about one man, not a huge epic like East of Eden.

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    • I am so humbled by your kindest words. Thank you all again.

      Have I told you that there were plenty of times when I did feel I was simply restoring the text? For example, the “Led Zeppelin” pun (“Where is it led”) simply doesn’t work in Russian, it’s just there, and only when translated it becomes an actual pun. Or Black looking up “Freedom” in the encyclopedia – in the original he is leafing through the volume “F”, except the Russian word for freedom doesn’t start with F.
      (also, a fascinating fact from the book’s history: the manuscript reached the owner of the publishing house by an enormously complex series of coincidences, but by that time it was lacking the first page, so there was no name of the author or the title. The editor spent some time trying to establish what the original was of which this manuscript was a translation, while at the same time tracing back the human chain to the origin)

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  12. Oh, another thing it’s that Yuri chose the book, as opposed to someone who would be commissioned to translate it. He already loved the book. If there’s not that emotional connection, I doubt the result can be so amazing.

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  13. Katie, you say how fascinating to be able to read in two languages, but I find fascinating the relationship that, for example, Sarah has with Jane Austen’s books. You said you have some knowledge of German, maybe you have something in your heritage that also connects you with Kafka? I am sure we all have different and rich experiences. I know it sounds wonderful, to know two languages, but a person in one language can also have that richness or more, if she cultivates who she is, and explores and expands her heritage. And reading is a great way to do that. (I always think of Sherry too, and her depth in poetry, her deep understanding and communion with so many American writers and poets, and others.) Everybody has his/her own treasures. And that’s what made our reading and comments so varied, and so enjoyable.

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    • Which is why I love book groups so much. We all bring our differences and strengths and weaknesses and throw them together. I don’t know if it’s more like making a stew or my kids building a blanket fort together or some cool, collaborative picture painted in a Renaissance studio, but we all manage to add the best parts of our hearts to the group’s reading. Katie, you make these incredible intuitive leaps that make my jaw drop open, I yank out a million details and try to massage them into a big idea, and Silvia argues all different sides of that idea and makes us puzzle out “but what about this, could it be this instead, and what if you twist it upside down and to the left and then hold it up to the light?!” One of the coolest things about this group is that everyone is here with a level of humility, a willingness to test theories and discard the ones that don’t work, an openness to correction that keeps this whole reading game fun and cooperative.

      Which—to get back to the book—is why I think Smoker has such a problem believing. I’m not convinced that it is ultimately his skeptical personality or his late arrival to the House that keeps him out. I think that it comes down to a subtle kind of pride in being the one who can see past “the Game” to the REAL truth (or so he thinks). Believing would mean letting go of his own sense of wisdom and admitting that he was doubly a fool (both in ignorance and in assuming that there was nothing there). In the end, I don’t think Smoker is willing to be so wrong, to re-form his world view.

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      • I agree. Reading together is wonderful. I cherish it.

        Smoker seems the most prideful of them all. He is not that able to put himself in someone else’s shoes. He has a problem opening up, and it’s normal to see others not trusting him, since he doesn’t reciprocate.

        Sphinx’s curiosity as to Smoker’s progression was sparked when he told him a bit about how he tried to see others without their masks, but he stopped there. The next step, maybe, would have been to have a genuine interest to know who they truly are under that mask. But no, he doesn’t want to play what he perceives as a Game. And that put him in danger.

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      • You’re right. Smoker is definitely prideful. And I had hoped that the conversation when he told Sphinx about his game would be a turning point for him. but I see now that structurally, it works best for the book for him to remain that outsider. As much as we want Smoker to come around, I think it would have been less satisfying – less realistic. And Smoker is a reminder for us. Through his rejection, he reminds us to open our eyes, to believe, to trust.

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  14. About Emma, and Jane Austen. I’m glad you share your thoughts, I value what you share, to me it’s very meaningful and relevant. I always feel there’s something I’m missing when I read JA. The reactions in some of my friends, seem to be much fuller or more vibrant than what I get. It’s not a lack of understanding, it’s, I’m sure, the culture. An American is not a British, but British heritage, or anglo heritage, it’s at your DNA level. To give you an example, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, -with a comparative convoluted language, or say Middlemarch, those books I dig, while JA feels ‘boring’ more than exciting. Excuse me for that. But this is a great example of that D and T controversy. JA is a great author, and I value her books, I keep reading them, no matter that feeling of not ‘getting it all’. That’s fine, the appreciation is there, one doesn’t always need to read what she likes. Taste is not only indulged, taste is also trained. Only we know when we want to be doing one or the other. Despite my JA’s complaints, I’m enjoying a bit more every time I read her.

    The problem this year, it’s my new acquired taste for looong books, ahem. And I’m not sure if I want to move to the Russia of War and Peace right now. If I did that, my family is going to go hungry, my girls stagnated in their studies, there’s no telling, ha ha ha.

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    • I think we really gravitate toward the same types of authors. I suspect that if I had to choose between Jane Eyre and all of Austen’s books combined, I would choose Jane Eyre. I love Jane Austen; I really do. I delight in her books, and it would be a difficult choice to give her up, but I love Jane Eyre that much more.

      I don’t think The Gray House felt nearly as long as it is, especially considering how many times we’ve reread many of the chapters. But I know what you mean about long books. My summer is all but over and it is a fight for me to get a lot of reading time during the school year. I don’t have the brain power by the time evening comes. Speaking of long books, I am exactly halfway through The Count of Monte Cristo and I don’t think I’ve read a chapter since starting TGH. And I’ve been enjoying Dumas, but TGH takes over the mind to such a degree that, like Sarah said, everything else seems flat for the time being.

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    • I wonder if it is culture or personality that has a greater sway. I adore Austen. (and I must admit I’m utterly appalled at the though of giving her work up for a Brontë, even though I DO love Jane Eyre… sorry Katie!) I think, though, that her work resonates so strongly with me because I think like she does—both conservative and an outsider, wanting to perfect without wanting to destroy first, dealing with problems through humor and snark rather than a head-on confrontation, occasionally cynical but also hugely sentimental and hopeful, poking fun at people even while loving them dearly. Reading Austen is like settling into my own mind and finding it brighter, funnier, more tender, more insightful, and wiser than I can ever manage to be. Maybe it’s like the difference between staying in a lovely hotel or having an interior designer come and “do” your own home. A hotel is fun to visit, but it’s still not home. Most authors are like hotels—and I’m so grateful to visit and see the sights—but a few feel like rediscovering my own home.

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      • 2 to 1, Jane Eyre for me! Team Katie!

        Culture or personality, (or a bit of both), I don’t feel the same with Jane Austen. I don’t relate to that even-keeled character. Jane Austen’s home, doesn’t feel homey, ha ha ha. Reading her to me it’s more like visiting a museum. There’s value, artistry, allurement, but that’s not home, you have to walk through the rooms, and be quiet, mostly, it’s predictable, I cannot get close to the paintings. The rhythm in her books becomes tedious, the pace sometimes comes almost to a halt. But your description of what it means to read JA to you, it’s beautiful, ha ha ha. I loved reading it more than I enjoy reading what’s going on with Katherine at Northanger Abbey. Though I have to say, so far, Katherine is my favorite JA’s character. I like how candid she is in not knowing what to think or do, and not trying to play a role.

        I do love the thrill of those authors that feel so different to home. I find myself when I go out of my confines. I can see now why you were a tad, -only a tad-, uncomfortable in the beginning of the book. (I was thrilled, but worried about you.)

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      • Haha. Even as I was saying it, I was like, oh dear, would I really throw all of Jane Austen over for Charlotte Bronte? People are always putting those two up against each other, and that was the best way I could profess my love for Jane Eyre. Thankfully, I don’t have to choose because I do love Austen too. Emma or Pride and Prejudice might be in my top 10, but Jane Eyre is in my top 5.

        I love how you talk about your relationship with her. I can see that she is definitely your home. That’s beautiful

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  15. I hope I did not insult Orthodox people. If they find a legitimate affirmation of the Orthodox faith in D, that’s to their gain.

    What I perceive, even in his religious thoughts, I still find D’s very messy, -good messy(?) I like his wrestling with dilemmas such as faith/atheism, hypocritical faith/true faith, isolate yourself/be among others, born this way/made this way.

    I’m saying that if you are an Orthodox, you don’t have to defend D’s over T. It’s fair to acknowledge T’s genius, as much as it is to praise all that one loves in D’s work.

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    • I think Dostoevsky makes you feel like it’s okay to be a mess. That we’re all a work in progress and that we don’t have to be perfect to be worthwhile, and we can even be brilliant while being a mess. I guess I am saying that he’s so profoundly human and helps us feel our own humanity to the depths. I don’t know.

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      • That’s what I get when I read him. I don’t mind that his world and people don’t ‘work’, as I’m not thinking about how little credible they act or talk, because I’m glued to his words and I’m experiencing all that they provoke in me, and that’s how his writing pierces your soul, that may not be artistry in a proper way, but it’s not short of a feat either. (I’ve noticed that those who appreciate the ‘whole picture’, and that need some well constructed world, in which characters behave consistently with who they are, etc, gravitate more towards T and appreciate Jane Austen a lot, and those who, for any reason, appreciate a transparent look at the inner conflicts of a passionate and troubled soul, love D, Jane Eyre -another troubled soul there, well, everybody is in conflict in that book, or Wuthering Heights.

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      • Yes. I am ultimately an idea person, so I think that’s why Dostoevsky strikes at me so. Not to say that Tolstoy’s books aren’t rich with ideas, but with Dostoevsky, it’s like you are part of the philosophical conversation and he makes you wrestle through it all.

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  16. Ginger and Noble. What does Noble see in Ginger?

    Noble is described as very handsome by Chimera and others. In Ginger’s Tale, we are told he is out of her reach, that girls like her don’t talk to one like him. I’m thinking that Noble is from ‘noble’ or well off parents. I’m thinking he wasn’t born a wheeler, but that something happened to him and he became paralyzed. I think the accident is part of his depression, and his suicidal tendencies. (I think he tried to kill himself when he ended up at the Sepulcher.) Did Ralph convince Noble’s mother to let him come back? He was changed. But then, it seems that his love for Ginger brings him back to ‘normal’. His fire is lit once more. Maybe not normal, but a bit maniac, ha ha ha.

    Ginger, is she an orphan? Is she really Red’s sister, -I thought not, but they just care for each other since little-. She’s described as not very feminine or particularly pretty. Does she argue with Noble because she doesn’t fully believe that he loves her, or is he the one who thinks she doesn’t love him? (We know Ginger is probably sleeping around with others, but is this because she rebels against the idea of committing herself to Noble, -in the thought he’s mocking her, or using her?)

    Why does she want to kill him in the Tale? Is that because he doesn’t see her or notice her?

    I’m still laughing at Smoker. He hates that Ginger doesn’t even notice him, and he criticizes her and points to all her moral and physical faults he can think of. But on FTN, Ginger was kind to Smoker, she left her teddy with him, and she was amicable, (was Blind smiling at him too?) I wonder what changed, why does everybody give Smoker presents? Maybe because they know he is leaving, and, after all, he’s been one of them, if ever at intervals.

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    • There’s another missing/restored chapter in the new edition of the House in Russian, and it’s a monologue is Noble’s voice that slots between him donning the sweater with lizards on the front and returning to drink the coffee with the basilisk eggshell; he drives over to Ginger and tells her about himself and about how he loves her (she mentions it to Sphinx in the anteroom when she comes to find out about Red). He elaborates on his relationship with Sphinx (and how he’s eternally grateful to him for making him what he is now), but also describes what happened after his extraction from the House – how his mother took him to a mental hospital and how it was soul-suckingly horrible, so that when Ralph came there to find out about him, as the Fourth asked him to, he basically understood, like Elk with Blind, that he can’t leave without Noble. So I think Ralph had to convince mostly the hospital doctors that Noble is no longer a danger to himself; I doubt his mother cared enough.
      Noble and Ginger neither of them considers him/herself worthy of being loved by the other – Noble because he convinced himself that he’s a pitiful cripple, and Ginger because she’s always known about herself that she’s ugly. (And I don’t think she’s sleeping with anyone else, that’s just Smoker talking, as an argument to reinforce his “shameless” image of her).
      And Ginger has dreamed of going to the Forest ever since she was little (that, I think, is the source of her childhood love for Blind – she knew that he would definitely be able to help her), was so proud of becoming a Jumper (also, remember in the Sepulcher with Death and Grasshopper: “I’m neither, but I will be one day, you’ll see”), and suddenly here is this impossibly beautiful man for whom all of this is an afterthought, something so easy and natural, and he didn’t have to do anything to become that. I can see how this can drive her crazy.

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      • Awww. I love reading about these two. It’s a beautiful love story. Thanks for clarifying that (I’m happier knowing that Ginger is loyal to Noble, -bad Smoker, he plays with my brain, I should not believe him.)

        Now I understand why Red feared for Ginger going to Blind, it was Ginger’s appeal for the Forest, and knowing Blind for long, and thinking she could love him, and she could be taken to the Forest, yes, it makes sense.

        I remember that part when Ginger goes to ask about Red, and Sphinx is consoling her, and she doesn’t want to come back to her quarters anymore, but stay there with them, but she tells Sphinx that she had told Noble she’d visit him, she had giving him word of coming back to him, and she wanted to do that.

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      • “Bad Smoker.” hahaha

        It was beautiful in the end when Ginger asked him to hold her bear. He’s been nothing but nasty to her all this time, and yet she reached out in friendship, and it touched him. I think as much as Smoker annoys them, they feel kinda sorry for him.

        And yes, it makes so much sense that her assumed love for Blind was really her desire for the Forest. It’s interesting how desire and will are not enough on their own to get some characters where they want to be. Ginger is tenacious, and she did manage to become a jumper, but she needed Noble to take her the rest of the way. Vulture, despite consuming all these strange concoctions, he failed to get to his brother and he needed Tabaqui. And back to Ginger and Noble, if I remember correctly, she had no knowledge of Noble’s jumping ability when he professed his love for her. She had no idea that she was being handed what she always wanted in the form of someone who was crazy about her – without the extreme amount of baggage Blind carries.

        I like your ideas about Noble – that it was an accident that caused his disability. I don’t know if it’s true, but it does change how you read him a bit. And yes, I think he comes from a wealthy family. There was mention early on, I think during FTN, that his family had a coat of arms, and he wasn’t joking.

        Noble and Ginger fight a lot. I wonder if it’s just in their personalities, or if some of it is born of the insecurities they carry and their fear that the other doesn’t love them enough. Like Yuri was saying, they both consider themselves unworthy. For all of Noble’s beauty, what he sees in the mirror and how he appears in that underside diner scene, is anything but beautiful. His clothes are tattered and coming apart at the seams as he walks. Sphinx tells Smoker in that early chapter that when Noble looks in the mirror he sees and elderly Marlene Dietrich. I’d like to think that by the end of the book, Noble sees himself rightly. And Ginger too.

        I was also wondering why Ginger had the urge to kill Noble. Maybe because he was so unaware of everything around him. With no effort at all, he has what she wants, and he doesn’t even see it. And maybe she feels like they are never going to make a connection with each other and he will never become her guide and she will just live her life being jealous of him.

        Why do some of them want to live on the other side? I know the thought of having working limbs is attractive to some, but so much of the place seems dark and strange to me. Are they escaping from real life or just choosing a different real life? Or is this a question that shouldn’t even be asked. And is the Forest laid over the rest of the underside or is it a separate location. It seems like even in this other world, it just appears sometimes.

        Rereading what you guys said, I guess I just said mostly the exact same thing. lol. And Ginger is not Red’s sister, but he thinks of her that way.

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      • “She had no idea that she was being handed what she always wanted in the form of someone who was crazy about her…”

        That’s beautiful, Katie. She may have thought that she was letting go of her deepest desire when she chose Noble, but she didn’t realize that it was only by sacrificing that dream that she would have it fulfilled.

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    • I have East of Eden, so I will read that one, and after, the other one, Katie. I have a feeling I will Steinbeck. (I have not read any of his books.)

      The fights between Noble and Ginger, I too see them as the result of their insecurities.

      Noble represents another type, those who have faith, and whose life is already a “miracle”, but who fail to see it. Noble tells Blind when he finally reaches the Forest, thanks for bringing me here, and Blind says, “it was YOU”, Noble has low self-esteem.

      I wonder if the Marlene Dietrich was an outward reference, or inward?

      Do you think that the Other Side is uglier or darker than the Outsides, as the price they pay for having limbs or functions they don’t have on their other life? (Blind tells Sphinx in the alternative conversation, that others would be very glad to have hands, albeit with those horrible and painful fingers.)

      As for the Forest, I think the Forest overlaps all the other realities, it’s like a deeper level place of peace and magic, -or not? (I need to go back to the Forest scenes, I think they all feel free and themselves in it, right?) Either that, or it is a more remote place in the Other Side.

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      • I agree. It does seem that the Forest is more peaceful and magical. More desirable.

        With the Other Side, it could be a case of you can’t have it all, that there is a trade off. I wonder how large the Other Side is and whether it is all very similar or if some places are more pleasant than the places we’ve seen. We are told that Blackwood is rather a slum and it’s close to the border. Maybe there are more desirable places to live. Or maybe not.

        It also makes me think about our own world and all the dangers and evils that are woven into this place. We, like Sphinx, can see the beauty and goodness, but we can’t deny the darkness. Perhaps The Outsides is an equally dangerous choice. Just different.

        I keep asking myself why Ralph was willing (or even wanting?) to move to the other side. I don’t understand his motivations. Do you think it was a way for him to continue to watch over – from a distance – his charges? Like he feels worry and responsibility for them? Or maybe it’s penance for being the catalyst that sends Godmother to the Underside?

        Do those on the Other Side have greater power over their domain than they have on the Outsides? That could also be attractive. In the alternate conversation (which I would love to discuss and compare sometime) Blind admits that the place does “his bidding.”

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      • Smoker says, “Blind said that whatever we chose, every one of us would have to begin our lives anew, because the life that’s waiting for us would have nothing in common with the one that was ending. Many would remember nothing of this life, but that shouldn’t frighten us.” (691)

        Whether they choose the Outsides or the Other Side, it is going to take bravery on their parts. The House is their safety; it’s what they know. Even those who stay and go into the Underside will be forging new lives there. Perhaps the point isn’t so much that one choice is so much better than the other, but that whatever you choose, you must take responsibility for your life and your choice.

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      • That’s a great point, Katie, no matter what they choose, they have to be responsible. I thought that the Other Side looked more frightening because they had more physical abilities, while in the Outsides, they’re crippled (I am taking about Blind’s reproach to Sphinx), but I saw Sphinx as trying to derive strength from acknowledging his limitations, versus Blind feeling more powerful in a place that, as he said and you mentioned, Katie, does its bidding.

        Yuri showed us the difference attitudes or looks at the House and all that was happening, maybe the different places also correspond somehow to different ways of living live. I mean, pursuing love, having ideals, willing to learn or to accept we don’t have control, aspiring to become the arquitects of our fate, or becoming self centered and focused on success, trying to help others, trading up freedom for safety -the commune people…

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      • And maybe what you say about Blind and Sphinx’s choices is why I feel Sphinx to be the more noble. Well, not to mention what he does for Blind – it seems that all his pursuits of adulthood are with the mind to “save” Blind – to give him a gift.

        I think you are right on those different perspectives of living life. I like that.

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  17. And I rectify, I don’t think our taste in literature can be reduced to even culture or personality, but those two play a big role.

    (I was reading about literary criticism, and I liked the conclusion of that article, it said that maybe, better than to criticize what we don’t like, we should try to understand why we love what we love)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. About D. and T. I still think that, if we agree on an objective standard pointing to completeness, T wins. T has a stronger sense of universality, he meets us there, in the world he creates, and the people he creates. But D’s subjectivity is quite universal too?, His books are powerful in a different way, as you say, he list a fire in our soul. That’s why I am also intrigued by his dismissal of Zola. If you pick your frame of comparison based on T’s strengths, he will always win. Without other types of literature, less rounded, more slanted, we could not appreciate T’s roundness.

    The article convinced me in its terms, lol, but I think there’s a more encompassing frame of discussion in which we don’t have to compare them, but in which we will focus on why we love them so much, and why we love what we love in each of them so much.

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    • The article ask the wrong question, huh! (And in the quote of Borges’ criticism of what D is not, I still see the positive of what he is!) (It must be that he too admired T’s artistry a lot.)

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  19. WOW!!! Amazing thoughts and comments from all of you. All that I can say is that I’m finished! LOL! I liked the characters so much, but most of the time was very confused. I’m glad that I persevered and it was eye-opening for me. Thanks for the invitation to join you, Silvia. I’m so glad to have read it with you and Katie and others! 🙂 Amy

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  20. One of the things I think this book is about is perspective, and maybe you all can help me say this because right now I just have thoughts and pieces in mind and not a whole lot of time to sit and contemplate – I’m not a good, in my head thinker; I need a piece of paper or computer screen, and with school planning in full swing now, I’m not getting that time.

    So anyway….here are some of the elements I see that draw out this theme of perspective:

    The idea that a story is different depending on who is telling it – highlighted in Mermaid and Sphinx’s conversation. Mariam doesn’t only tell us this, she shows us through all the different voices present and speaking in their own words to us in this book. After the initial introduction by Smoker’s chapters, we are guided through the story by several unique voices, including the House itself. And something that is so awesome about this structure is that it is never jarring, despite the striking difference in some of the narrators voices. It flows seamlessly and makes for such a rich reading experience.

    Depending on who you talk to at the Coffee Pot, Alexander either lit himself on fire, turned into a dragon or Tabaqui set off a bomb. Only one of those is true, but depending on how one views the world, they are going to explain the strange event differently. (And I have to say that the bomb hypothesis is simply hilarious because I would not put it past Tabaqui to build a bomb, though I would be surprised if he detonated it in the Coffeepot)! Depending on who you want to trust, Sphinx was either torturing Noble or making him stronger and more independent. Depending on a character’s experiences, the Underside can be a welcoming or an inhospitable place. Depending on how one prefers to read, the reader is going to see realistic explanations or fantastic, inexplicable realities – not that it is purely one or the other, but Silvia and I are examples of this. We could probably come up with 50 more examples like this!

    We’ve got the fact that people appear differently in the Underside based on how they view themselves. So we have Alexander as a grotesquely maimed angel, Tabaqui, a “half baked hyena with faceted wings made out of flower petals” who turns into a Sikh, Noble in disgusting rags with no trace of beauty. These are their personal perspectives, and while the manifestations say what is true about what they believe, what they believe is not always true. We see this with the mirrors too. And while in literature mirrors are often magical or mysterious objects, these passages also speak to a common experience that many of us share – this dissatisfaction with the image in the mirror and the distorted way we often view ourselves in the glass.

    I was just flipping through to find that early chapter with Sphinx and Smoker and the mirrors, and this passage stood out to me as also relating to perspective. This is Smoker:

    “What did I know about the Fourth, when it came down to it? That, except fro Lary, they behaved more or less normally toward me. They seemed nice, almost too nice for all those horrors attributed to them. But maybe I was exactly the reason? Who would need a slave in a wheelchair? Useless. He can barely serve himself. One who could move, now that’s different. One like Alexander. Having arrived at this thought, I realized that the Pheasant poison was inside me and that i was going to die from it. But not before carrying it through the rest of my life.” (57)

    So Smoker experiences one thing – they seem pretty nice, -but he chooses to distrust this and believe vague rumors. Now, I’m all for intuition, but I think what he is doing here is not being intuitive by believing there is a negative undercurrent to the fourth – his intuition says that they are actually nice, but he’s fighting the beliefs that have already been instilled in him by the Pheasants, and he chooses that. The Pheasant perspective, as he very rightly says, poisons him against these people who could have very well become his friends. (We see the same thing with pre-conceived notions when Stinker wants to join the Poxy Sissies, except that, thanks to Grasshopper’s “mistake” and tender heart, they let him in and actually discover this amazing person). How might Smoker have been different if he were placed in the 4th straightaway rather than spending time with the Pheasants first? Or is he simply a Pheasant at heart? These stories he’s heard though, they have colored his view, made him wary and prejudice.

    It’s likely that I brought this conversation up WAY back in the beginning, but I don’t remember what I said early on! I think this is important when Smoker and Sphinx are in the bathroom:

    “The me that’s in there is all wrong.”

    “Yep. You’ve noticed it too, haven’t you?”…….

    “All right,” [Sphinx] said, “Let’s forget about that you, the one living in the mirror.”

    “Are you saying he is not me?”

    “He is. But not quite. He is you seen through the lens of your image of yourself. We all look worse in the mirror than we actually are, didn’t you know that?”

    “I’ve never thought about it that way.”

    Suddenly it dawned on me how crazy it all sounded.

    “Cut out this nonsense, Sphinx. It’s not funny.”

    Sphinx laughed.

    “It is funny,” he said. “It really is. Funny how, as soon as you start to grasp something important, your first reaction is to shake it out of yourself.”

    I believe that this presents another idea that is tied to perspective, and that is that we really need community in order to tell us what is true about ourselves. Our perspective about ourselves can be dangerously flawed, and we need others around us who can see what we don’t.

    Something interesting is happening here on a couple different levels, at least in my reading experience. We’ve got the straightforward conversation about image and perception, but due to Smoker’s Pheasant-ness (as well as the mysterious tone of the book), there is also a level of disorientation in the reader’s perspective (at least for me), because I thought that maybe there is something strange and mysterious going on with these mirrors and with Sphinx. Now that I’ve read the book, I realize this is a straight up realistic conversation, but Smoker planted doubts in my mind about Sphinx and skewed my perspective.

    And we get this example early on of Sphinx trying to guide and to help Smoker think rightly, and Smoker is not open to his point of view because he’s already decided what he believes. He tells us that he chose Black that night at the Crossroads, but I think his mind was made up from the start; Black just made him feel better about his choice. Sphinx can sometimes persuade Smoker to a point, but as soon as Smoker realizes it, his guard goes up and he’s unwilling to follow the thought. And not only that, but he chooses the wrong view of Sphinx; he believes his motives are sketchy or that he’s messing with his mind. He won’t accept a simple philosophical thought, like the one in the above conversation.

    There is a tension in what this book says about perspective : 1. The way we view ourselves and others can be distorted, biased, false. 2. Mermaid and Sphinx’s statements: “The same story comes out completely differently depending on who’s telling it. And for all that, none of you is really lying.” “Because whoever’s telling the story creates the story. No single story can describe reality exactly the way it was.”

    I think we reconcile this through the importance of community. As I said earlier, we need to be telling each other the truth about ourselves. We also need to be telling each other the shared stories of our lives, and because we each have unique ways of seeing, these stories are going to be uniquely us while contributing to the whole. I guess it gets tricky when people live with a distorted view of their world because what they contribute to the communal story may not be ultimately true – and yes, we will have disagreements whether it was a bomb or a dragon or a suicide attempt – yet, while only one is true, all three of those things do say something true because no one would bat an eyelash to hear that Tabaqui had in fact built a bomb and we all know how troubled and haunted Alexander is……It is within both of their natures to do the things that are speculated about. I would like to try to untangle my thoughts about this a little more, but my time is running short.

    Another thing related to how we view ourselves is the role the amulets play. Both Sphinx and Mermaid have powerful things happen to the wishes they attach to amulets, and while maybe there is some actual magic at play, I think more likely that they chose to believe in that power

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perspective. I love that. I enjoy you going back to the beginning. Now we can look at the beginning with the gained perspective of the end. We will all be re-reading, and readjusting our positions.

      You were drawn to the mirrors, (we all saw how important the scenes with them were), and it’s funny how that conversation between Sphinx and Smoker, in front of the mirror, you thought it may have some other meanings, and it ended being straightforward (and I coincide with you view of it). But you are spot on with Smoker’s skewed view of the 4th coming from the Pheasants. We don’t know if his “pheasantness” (I love that word Mariam invented) was acquired, or if he was placed there initially because he already was a perfect fit. Sphinx says he was a bad jumper, Smoker to me is a bad Pheasant, but still a Pheasant. Again, perspective, if we compare Smoker to a Pheasant from the 1st, Smoker has a more intrepid way of seeing life and the House (he had allegoric dreams, sharp perceptions, rebellious tendencies), but if we compare him to Sphinx, and the 4th, he breaks cold from letting go, following his instincts, or simply suppressing his ego and listening. The tension between the individual and the collective is at its highest peak in Smoker, he asserts himself so much, that there’s no room for Sphinx talk, Tabaqui’s non conventional narrative. Noble tries to explain to him that, in order for him not to be bullied, he had to break the pattern, stop behaving like a Pheasant (because if he did behave like a Pheasant, they are bullied by the pack, and Lary had to fulfill his role. Now, a surprise move can alter the result.) It’s like the definition of madness as doing the same and expecting different results.

      Community and our narratives. Yes, all of them are true, as long as they come from our true selves. I can see how those 3 explanations you gave to what happened to Alexander at the Coffee Pot can be real, but only coming from those who’d back them up with their own integrity.

      I’m very hang up on why I gravitated to the realistic at one point in the book. I think you’ve helped me with the last comment to maybe understand why. I think that some events (at times small, and perceived sometime in the future as important, other times big and somehow traumatic), shape our view. I started with a strong desire to be lifted to the magical. I wanted ‘proof’ of the magical, the author commanding that magical view from me. But Mariam did not do that, she never tells us, now think magical, now switch to realistic. And at one point, tragedy and violence hit me in the way of some words, some sentences, some events. I think my ‘turning’ point was Butterfly in the restroom, followed by the attack on Red, and the mention of words and things I know to be real drugs, real dangers. It’s not a coincidence that the same chapter has the first strong allusion to the clocks and watches not working with Ralph (the more ‘realistic’ person up to that point, -in my mind-). I decided to explore that ‘realistic’ thread and I was determined to exhaust it, and at one time (a short time), I even thought (huh!) that Mariam would come and vindicate my ‘explanation’. That’s why I became very sad and frustrated with myself when Yuri told us about the gears and feathers, and when you continued exploring the Undersides, etc., and kept bringing lots of nice commentary on the magical. (Coincidentally, at the time when you posted about ‘changelings’, I read that word in the book Ten Fingers for God. The little girl always comes to hug her dad when he is back from his medical trips in India. They are the only white family there. One day, a different white man approaches their home, and she rushes to his knees to ‘hug father’, to be surprised how different ‘father’ was, on close examination, she thought he was a ‘changeling’, lol.

      And the amulets, that’s what i thought too, it’s the power and their faith to believe in them what makes them work (or not).

      I often think about Vulture, how he wasn’t able to do what he wanted to do, what he thought it was right. He did never believe in himself. He said his brother was the wrong twin to die. When we love and admire someone, and that person leaves, we do not believe we can be as strong and as good as that person was. After his admission of those feelings, things get better for him, which tells me that the first step into improving a situation, it’s the admission of what’s in ourselves that’s hindering progress. Sometimes we rather not try than try thinking we won’t succeed.

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  21. Hello , I am following this book club since the first week, but i never dared to comment because, having already read the book , I feared to spoil something to someone , also I am only seventeen years old , futhermore I am french. I read The gray house in french under the title La maison dans laquelle , and I seriously thinking about reading it in english … I loved this book because often when adults write something concerning the teenagers , the teens in those books are caricatural, like drawing a very young kid would have made: there isn’t any depht ,in The gray house this is ont the case… I also loved all the reflexions and ideas you can have when reading this book( your book club really helped me sometime)
    About Sphinx and Mermaid’s relashionship, I read not so long ago, that the cats, the sphinx were companions to the Mermaids before ( in mythology) , also Humpback ‘behaviour make me think about Pan , the god of nature, sometime a young, isolated boy playing music that gathers all animals, sometime a scary looking, dangerous entity (The word panic came from him) .
    The french translation is beautiful , and the cover is amazing, a little bit scary and strange…
    Speaking about changelling , do you know Paul Shapera ´s opera : Lullabies for homeless fairies?
    If you don’t know about his work , you should try …
    I hope to have the opportunity to join the discussion ( even if I am late,like Smoker, can my shyness be cursed)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marie, and welcome!
      I have the French edition, and the cover is indeed gorgeous, it feels so nice in the hands and the colored foil effect is stunning; I also love that it says “No knocking, no admittance” on the back. I had the chance to meet Raphaёlle Pache this spring in Paris, she was there for the Russian Literature event and had a Q&A session with Mariam.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Marie,
      It’s never late to talk about this book. I also love how it portrays the adolescents, and your age confirms that it’s a wonderful trait of the book.
      Your comments are interesting, and I will try to find that Lullabies for homeless fairies piece!
      Initially, before reading the book, I found the picture of the French cover a bit disturbing. But now I understand how it fits the book.
      I hope to hear more from you.
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting. It’s very nice to meet you.

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    • The musical piece you referred to, Marie, https://mochalab.bandcamp.com/album/fairy-tales-for-homeless-faeries

      And Troubled Minds, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G9Y3vVBNTo

      BRILLIANT:
      Peter Pan could not admit he had become a man
      He smashed the mirror into a million bits
      Now all he seems to do is stare and sit
      Painting pictures of a life that he’ll never find
      Inside his troubled mind, troubled minds

      I was listening to interviews to these writers I admire: Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortázar, Mario Vargas Llosa. Yuri, it reminded me of the 2nd reason for reading of that essay, “knowing the author”. I may write about it, for listening to these 3 men taught me lots about their work. It was Cortázar the one who reminded me lots of our book club and Mariam. Two things. One is that Cortázar read a lesser known book by Julio Verne about an invisible man. He passed it to a friend who returned it and was frustrated. His friend told him that ‘it wasn’t possible’, and Cortázar, -he was 12 or so-, realized at that point that his view of fantasy/reality was different to most people. For him, the limits are not where most people put them. He did not consider those coincidences or things that fall outside our logic non real. His dream world -nightmares included- are part of reality, as much as what you eat for dinner. Second, he once wrote a short tale based on a nightmare where two brothers are expelled from their own home by some unknown and terrifying forces. Some readers started saying the tale could be interpreted as an allegory of Peronism. (Cortázar left Argentina when Perón seized power.) Then he said that it’s a legitimate way of reading his tale. Not the one that originated his story, but possibly he wrote that because his subconscious registered he was becoming estranged. He said that in his life, he witnessed how his readers were finding meaning and readings of his work he wasn’t aware of, but that once he was presented with them, he recognized and found they were valuable and then became part of the text as much as his conscious explanations. In a nutshell, readers can see and will see more than the author.

      That’s in sync with Mariam’s idea that the book it’s now out there, with its own life.

      I miss the book club, y’all!

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      • Lesser known indeed! Jules Verne was really big in Soviet Union, and his selected works (12 fat hardcover volumes; we had several, but not all) was highly sought after, but it didn’t include this novel (“Le Secret de Wilhelm Storitz”).

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  22. Also, sorry for my grammatical mystake : ” ont the case” being isn’t the case (thanks you dear grammar correctors) 🙂

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  23. Hello , thank you so much for having responded to my comment, it’s so nice !
    Another song , in a truly different world, that comes to my mind concerning this book is troubled minds from Marina and the diamond, especially the part concerning a Peter Pan who can’t admit hé hard become an adult,the lack of concept of reality associated with that things aren’t always what we think they are / must be , and finally the change in the last verse,”We have murdered the dream ” which always make me think about what happened during the graduation of Skull and Witch …

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