Saturday, 23 February 2019

№ 19 reading list : a debut novel by Isabella Hammad

№ 19 reading list: a debut novel by Isabella Hammad · Lisa Hjalt

Look at me, managing to share a new reading list in February! I'm particularly excited about the top book on the list, The Parisian, a debut novel by young author Isabella Hammad. It's a spring release from publisher Jonathan Cape and let me tell you, the first chapters are promising. Moving on to another Black History Month: since 1976 it has been celebrated in the US in February and I'm showing my support with If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. The Brits celebrate it in October and Baldwin was also on the reading list I shared then (№ 16). He's a favourite of mine. The film by director Barry Jenkins based on the novel has hardly escaped Baldwin fans. He got an Oscar nomination for the screenplay and Regina King for supporting role. Tomorrow we will know if they won.

№ 19 reading list:
· The Parisian  by Isabella Hammad
· Orientalism  by Edward W. Said
· If Beale Street Could Talk  by James Baldwin
· The Ghost Writer  by Philip Roth
· Women and Writing  by Virginia Woolf

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad, a debut novel (№ 19 reading list)
London-born Isabella Hammad won the 2018 Plimpton Prize for Fiction, for the short story Mr. Can'aan, featured in the literary magazine The Paris Review. April sees the release of her first novel, The Parisian. The lovely people at publisher Jonathan Cape (an imprint of Vintage) sent me a proof copy of this historical fiction.
As the First World War shatters families, destroys friendships and kills lovers, a young Palestinian dreamer sets out to find himself.
The description above is from the press release. The dreamer is Midhat Kamal, an Arab we meet on the first page: He's aboard a ship taking him from the port of Alexandria to Marseille, where he arrives in October 1914. Author Zadie Smith highly praises The Parisian in a blurb on the back cover, describing it as 'a sublime reading experience: delicate, restrained, surpassingly intelligent, uncommonly poised and truly beautiful' and further adding:
It is realism in the tradition of Flaubert and Stendhal - everything that happens feels not so much imagined as ordained. That this remarkable historical epic should be the debut of a writer in her twenties seems impossible, yet it's true. Isabella Hammad is an enormous talent and her book is a wonder.

The Parisian
By Isabella Hammad
Jonathan Cape
Hardcover, 576 pages

My last reading list was Japanese and naturally these past weeks have been characterised by Japanese culture. Peonies do not bloom until spring/summer, yet I'm going to end with this piece of art by Hokusai and give Japanese literature a rest, for now.

Katsushika Hokusai, Canary and peony, 1834
Katsushika Hokusai, Canary and peony, 1834, Guimet Museum, Paris via WikiArt

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Sunday, 20 January 2019

Breakfast pancakes with berries

Breakfast pancakes with berries · Lisa Hjalt

Although I created this recipe nine years ago in Denmark, and have since made some changes, it will probably always remind me of a Sunday morning in Bremen. Shortly after we moved here, when we were still drowning in cardboard boxes, I felt we needed to start the day with a family gathering at the table. I had raspberries in the freezer and decided to make breakfast pancakes, which we call American pancakes in Iceland (the ones in the photo have blueberries, hence the spots on the top one). In my memory this is the first cosy weekend breakfast in our new home. Usually the batter yields 10 pancakes, which I serve with pure maple syrup. The cardamom is a matter of taste and a pinch of it only adds a hint of flavour.
(Measurements: 1 cup = 250 ml, 1 tablespoon/tbsp = 15 ml.)


260 g white spelt flour or plain flour, organic (2 cups)
2½ teaspoons baking powder, gluten-free
½ teaspoon fine sea/Himalayan salt
2 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar, organic
a pinch of ground cardamom
2 eggs, free-range
280 ml milk (1 cup and 2 tbsp)
2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
optional: frozen blueberries or raspberries

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Separate the eggs. Whip the egg whites up with a pinch of salt until fluffy (not too stiff). Add the yolks, milk and oil to the bowl with the dry ingredients and whisk until the batter is smooth with no lumps. Add the whipped egg whites and whisk gently. Keep the berries in a separate bowl.

Heat a pan over a medium heat after wiping it with oil. Ladle batter into the pan and use the ladle to spread it. Add some berries on top. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom, before flipping it with a spatula to cook the other side.

(The heat probably depends on your pan. Many start with a high heat and then lower it, but I cannot do it with my pan: if it gets too hot I cannot control it. When cooking on gas one can easily adjust the heat but now I have an electric hob and find it best to lift the pan off the heat when ladling the batter. In between I brush it with oil.)

Serve the pancakes with pure maple syrup or butter. If not made with frozen berries it's ideal to enjoy them with fresh berries.

Uppskrift á íslensku

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

№ 18 reading list: Japanese literature II

№ 18 reading list: Japanese literature II · Lisa Hjalt

New Year, new Japanese reading list, finally. Some of you have been waiting for this one. I had nailed down the list but had to make a couple of adjustments, as two English translations of books I wanted to read now were unavailable at the library; they will be on the third one. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon is, like The Tale of Genji which was on the first, a classic by a Japanese lady of the court, written around the year 1000, during the Heian period in Japanese history. I know of an English translation by Ivan Morris, published in 1967, but I'm reading a newer one by Meredith McKinney, published by Penguin Classics.

№ 18 reading list:
· The Pillow Book  by Sei Shonagon
· No Longer Human  by Osamu Dazai
· Scandal  by Shusaku Endo
· The Old Capital  by Yasunari Kawabata
· Quicksand  by Junichiro Tanizaki
· Death in Midsummer and Other Stories  by Yukio Mishima
· Lost Japan  by Alex Kerr

Translated by, in this order: 1) Meredith McKinney 2) Donald Keene 3) Van C. Gessel 4) J. Martin Holman 5) Howard Hibbett 6) Edward G. Seidensticker, Ivan Morris et al. 7) Alex Kerr and Bodhi Fishman (non-fiction)

The blog post title says Japanese literature but this time I had to add one non-fiction to the list, Lost Japan by Alex Kerr, originally written in Japanese. You may have seen it already on my Instagram. It was a Christmas present from my oldest, who also gave me Edward W. Said's Orientalism. She chose well, right? Most of the books on the list are relatively short - I have almost finished three - so you can expect me sharing another reading list in the beginning of February. Happy New Year!

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