Book: Lysistrata

The book: Lysistrata, by Aristophanes

The edition: Italian translation by Valentino De Carlo, as published by Newton in “Tutte le commedie“, 1994, 40 pages

The story: a comic tale of Greek women trying to end the Peloponnesian War by refusing to have sex with their husbands (or lovers) until they sign a peace treaty.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: there’s a reason why I don’t usually read plays: I am unable to represent them in my head, so I can’t enjoy them properly. It was the same with this one (also encumbered by a few translation choices I didn’t like). Plays are written to be represented, not read — or at least not read by me. I can see there’s value in this one, and someone else may be touched by the pacifist stance, the feminist approach or whatever. I could only see the comedy, and not of a genre I like: foul-mouthed and full of double-entendres, it may extol a laugh (and it did, because the double-entendres are at times very smart), but leaves a bad aftertaste.

Language & translation: as I said, I do not agree with some of the translation choices. Spartans speak in a peculiar way in the original, I gather, and they are rendered with a popular dialect — but here they speak Roman dialect, which to my ear is too geographically suggestive to be used in this way.

Links to better understand this book: I’m lazy today so you’ll only get the Wikipedia entry.

Movie connection: based on a similar premise, I recommend The Source by Radu Mihaileanu.

Counts as: Greek Classics Challenge #1; Back to the Classics Challenge – Classic play

Travel with books – Greece

To know what this is all about, see my introduction post.
This is my first take at a Travel with books post, so if you have any idea on how I can make it better, please do tell me!


It took me a lot of time to write this post because I could not get hold of the photos, but it’s finally here. We were in Greece in January, first in Athens and then in Crete. I read five books for this project (see list below), some before leaving, some during the trip itself and one after coming back home.


The Acropolis in Athens

Here’s the list of possible reads I came up with, i.e. books set in Greece that sound interesting. Links are to my reviews, i.e. the books I actually read for this project; bold titles are the ones I am still interested in reading in the future; underlined titles are books I read in the past.

  • Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
  • Alessandro Baricco, An Iliad
  • Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
  • David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
  • Robert Goddard, Into the Blue
  • Victoria Hislop, The Island
  • Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba The Greek
  • Morgan Llywelyn, The Elementals
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Archanes
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Spartan
  • Valerio Massimo Manfredi, The Oracle
  • Colleen McCulloughs, The Song of Troy
  • Steven Pressfield, Last of the Amazons
  • George Psychoundakis, The Cretan Runner
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Firebrand

Cretan landscape

It was interesting to read about the place I was in, it gave a completely different taste to the books, because I was experiencing the city through the author’s words and then immediately I could lift my eyes from the book and find the real city in front of me, and see what was similar and what was different.

In Athens, for example, I was reading The Oracle and a street name came up, and both me and my husband were convinced we had trodden that street on the same day — yet we could not find it on any map!

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens

In Crete we were able to visit Archanes (the town the book is named after) and also Plaka, where most of The Island is set. We sat in a tavern that could be the one featured in the first chapters of the book, and watched the island of Spinalonga on the other side of a narrow canal. The story was much more real after seeing its setting.


The main (or rather only) road in Plaka

Inside a tavern in Plaka, overseeing Spinalonga (as described in the novel!)

Spinalonga, the former leper colony

And yet not everything in this experience was for the good. You may recall how I was disturbed by the sexism in Zorba the Greek. I had assumed it was due to the book being old and not having aged well, yet I was wrong because during this visit (my first to Greece) I noticed many things that hinted to a society that is still very machist and sexist. And while it disturbed me, it also made me notice the little sexist attitudes described in the other books I read (although in those cases they seemed more a description of society than an attitude on the author’s part). Such as this:

She had turned eighteen, her schooldays were long past and she had only one ambition: to marry well.


The archaeological site at Cnossos (the labyrinth of the Minotaur)

All in all, this turned out to be an interesting experience, and one I will surely continue.


View of Athens from the Acropolis

Our next destinations are supposed to be Andorra, Andalusia and Nepal/Tibet. Any suggestions as to what to read?

Book: Archanes

The book: Archanes, by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

The edition: Italian (original) edition as published by Mondadori, 201 pages

About the book & general thoughts: this is a collection of five short stories, very different one from the other. The general impression I had, was that each story would make a good novel in itself; as short stories they had too many threads to pull together nicely. They were overdone — or underdone, maybe. I was left with a general feeling of the author saying: “I can’t be bothered to think these ideas through”.

Language & writing: compared with previous works I read from this author, his prose seems more mature; I especially appreciated how he has left behind the overdetailed and preciously-worded descriptions. I spotted two awful (really awful) mistakes (and I always wonder how a published author can make such errors/horrors, and how a published book can be printed without anyone catching them) — enough to make me cringe and throw the book aside for some time!

About Archanes: halfway between an archaeological mystery (which Manfredi is well-versed in) and a study in thriller settings. Way too many things to count with in such a short story. It is set in the village of the same name in Crete, which I visited, and that may be the only reason why we bought this book: the place and the island are finely described.

About Limes: Manfredi’s other talent are historical settings, and here he describes the situation in Italy under Langobard rule. This is the only story I really liked — it includes a nicely done historical setting, a well-rendered feeling of the unstable situation at that time, and also enough family mysteries to make it a page-turner.

About Gli dei dell’impero (The Empire’s Gods): staging the Italian police force against the theft of archaeological remains, it is a quick adventure story.

About Midget War and Millennium Arena: in these two last stories, Manfredi tries his hand at two completely new genres: a thriller and a spy story. He’d better stick with what he’s good at: these two read as badly drafted film scripts.

Counts as: Travel with books – Greece; Travel with books – Rome; Italy in books.

This review is part of the
Loving the Reviews Challenge Extravaganza
at Sniffly Kitty’s Mostly Books blog

Book: The Island

The book: The Island, by Victoria Hislop

The edition: English original, Headline Review paperback, 474 pages

Synopsis: a sweeping family story intertwined with the story of Spinalonga, a leper colony on an islet just off the Cretan coast. A tale of family bonds, parental and filial love, superstition, social responsibility, and family secrets.

My thoughts: I had seen this book time and again, but its cover looked too much like a planned bestseller cover to me. I had never so much as picked it up to see what it was about. It sparkled no interest in me. Then, while I was on Crete (and reading books set there) a person lent it to me – and I started reading. It was captivating. It was good. It told you the story of Crete and Cretan society through the decades, never reading as a history book. My heart went out to the characters, to Eleni and Giorgis and Maria (not so much to Sofia, though). While it is certainly not an exceptional example of literature, it’s a nice read, a nice story, and I had the feeling that it described quite well the society of Crete during the 1900s. In other words, it felt “right”.

What I liked most: I liked the way love was portrayed in the face of leprosy, and the descriptions of small things that make the setting really Cretan (I wouldn’t have known, had I not been there while reading the book!). I also liked to learn more about leprosy — I was surprised at how little I knew!

What I didn’t like: the whole frame in which the story is set, the secret that present-time Alexis wants to know about turns out not to be strong enough (in my opinion) to justify all the secrecy. I would have preferred the story told as such (in Michener style), not as a flashback — but then again, maybe it wouldn’t have been just as gripping…

Read this if: if you like historical novels set in the 20th Century but want to read something lighter than another Holocaust-based book; also, if you like stories with a feminine perspective (NOT: a feminist perspective, though!) like The Joy Luck Club and Marcela Serrano’s novels.

Counts as: Travel With Books – Greece

This review is part of the
Loving the Reviews Challenge Extravaganza
at Sniffly Kitty’s Mostly Books blog

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Victoria Hislop

This week’s words all come from The Island, by Victoria Hislop. (See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog.)


Then they all processed into the gloomy dining room, where oil paintings of fierce mustachioed ancestors glared down from panelled walls. (p. 201)

Mustachioed: I could understand this world, but it still surprised me, because it clearly states that the “ancestors” sported mustachios, not simply mustaches.

Mustachios: pl.n. A mustache, especially a luxuriant one.


The two elderly men looked up briefly but soon resumed their conversation and the rhythmic clicking of their worry beads. (p. 159)

Worry beads: again, this word was immediately clear to me. Being in Greece at the time of reading this book, I had seen plenty of people, especially men, clicking their komboloi (sorry for the commercial link, but it does a good job at explaining what worry beads are). But I would never know how to call them in English.

Worry beads: pl.n. A string of beads for fingering in times of worry, boredom, or tension.


(All definitions are taken from TheFreeDictionary)