Tolstoy standout about the rest

100 Favorite Books

Art and Literature, Update & News
War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Wanna Read a Book?

I made a list of 100 favorite books out of many that I have read over the years, pick any to read, they are timeless, perhaps the greatest books ever written, in my opinion.

Arranged by date of Publication:

700 BC: The Odyssey – Homer
620 BC: Aesop’s Fables – Aesop
500 BC: The Art of War – Sun Tzu
431 BC: Medea – Euripides
429 BC: Oedipus the King – Sophocles
375 BC: The Symposium – Plato
335 BC: Poetics – Aristotle
360 BC: Anabasis – Xenophon
1021:  The Tale of Genji  – Murasaki Shikibu
1603: The Hamlet – William Shakespeare
1605: Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
1669: Pensées – Blaise Pascal
1670: Haiku Poems – Matsuo Basho
1719: Robinson Crusoe – Daniel Defoe
1720: Hagakure, The Book of the Samurai – Yamamoto Tsunetomo
1759: Candide – Voltaire
1765: Confessions – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1791: The Rights of Man  – Thomas Paine
1808:  Faust – Goethe
1825: Eugene Onegin – Aleksandr Pushkin
1830: The Red and the Black – Stendhal
1835:  Father Goriot – Honoré de Balzac
1839: The Fall of the House of Usher – Edgar Allan Poe
1840: A Hero for our Time – Mikhail Lermontov
1842: Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol
1843: Fear and Trembling – Soren Kierkegaard
1848: The Communist Manifesto –  Karl Marx
1850: David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
1851: Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
1852: Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth Leo Tolstoy
1852: A Sportsman’s Sketches –  Ivan Turgenev
1854: Walden – Henry David Thoreau
1855: Rudin – Ivan Turgenev
1856: Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
1859: On the Origin Of Species – Charles Darwin
1859: Oblomov – Ivan Goncharov
1860: First Love – Ivan Turgenev
1862: Fathers and Sons –  Ivan Turgenev
1862: Les Misérables – Victor Hugo
1866: Crime and Punishment –  Fyodor Dostoyevsky
1868: The Idiot –  Fyodor Dostoyevsky
1869: War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
1874: The Mysterious Island –  Jules Verne
1877: Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
1880: The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
1883: Thus Spoke Zarathustra Friedrich Nietzsche
1884: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain
1885: Bel-Ami – Guy de Maupassant
1886: The Death of Ivan Illysch – Leo Tolstoy
1886:  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
1889: The Kreutzer Sonata – Leo Tolstoy
1892: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
1892: The Conquest of Bread – Peter Kropotkin
1892: Ward No. 6 – Anton Chekhov
1897: What Is Art? – Leo Tolstoy
1899: The Darling – Anton Chekhov
1897: Dracula –  Bram Stoker
1899: The Interpretation of Dreams – Sigmund Freud
1899: Resurrection – Leo Tolstoy
1906: The Mother – Maxim Gorky
1906: White Fang – Jack London
1913: In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
1916: Relativity: The Special and the General Theory – Albert Einstein
1920: Women in Love – D. H. Lawrence
1922: Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse
1925: The Trial – Franz Kafka
1928: The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
1930: Civilization and Its Discontents – Sigmund Freud
1932: Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline
1938: Nausea– Jean-Paul Sartre
1938: Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
1939: And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
1941: Mother Courage and Her Children  – Bertolt Brecht
1942: The Stranger – Albert Camus
1942  The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus
1943: Life of Galileo – Bertolt Brecht
1947: Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann
1948: Intruder in the Dust – William Faulkner
1948: Joseph and His Brothers – Thomas Mann
1949: Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
1951: Speak, Memory – Vladimir Nabokov
1952: The Old Man and the Sea –  Ernest Hemingway
1953: Freedom or Death – Nikos Kazantzakis
1953: Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
1954: The Sound of the Mountain –  Yasunari Kawabata
195:  Il disprezzo – Alberto Moravia
1955: Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
1957: Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
1959: Cien Sonetos de Amor – Pablo Neruda
1961: Solaris Stanisław Lem
1962: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1964: Man and His Symbols  – Carl Jung
1967: One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
1973: The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
1978: Life: A User’s Manual Georges Perec
1980: Cosmos – Carl Sagan
1980: Waiting for the Barbarians – J. M. Coetzee
1987: Sculpting in Time – Andrei Tarkovsky
1989: Hollywood – Charles Bukowski
1995:  Blindness – José Saramago

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky


On Design: Room Design

Art and Literature, Culture, Update & News


“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they generally economized the room by standing up. It is surprising how many great men and women a small house will contain”

from Walden (1854) by  Henry David Thoreau.

More than a week ago, I wrote about designing book covers (Read here), and at the end of the article, I refereed to my room and promised to write and suggest some tips about designing your room, I got a few email asking for the article, bust watching Football kept me away, now,  the World Cup is over (I was cheering for Argentina, but it wasn’t to be), I got some hours of spare time, so here is how I planned and designed my room:

In Winter Time

In Winter Time

As I mentioned in the previous article; designing a book cover is not much different from designing your room,  or as a matter of fact; in designing anything that exist in nature, there are a few elements you have to consider; Space, Objects, Layout, Theme, Colors, and Time.

Having a deep passion for cinema, I wanted my room to become like an inside of a theater, the reason for that is because I use the room mostly to watch film and write, and in order for one to feel comfortable in an environment, one must reshape that environment to one’s liking and taste, only then can one become creative and feel comfortable.

One of the question that I’m always asked as to why I choose the color Red as the primarily color for the room? I chose is for the simple reason that it is my favorite color, and also; by its nature, Red is an active color, it attract the eye, move and animate one, but to balance the Red, the second color that I have used it Black, almost every object that I choose to decorate the room has a tone of black to it; from the DVD/Book Shelves, to the wood on the door, tables, furniture and even the frame of the posters on the wall, Black is the secondary color.

I like to think that I have divided the room into Seven different parts, each function independently from other in term of its suggestive layout, rather an abstract notion to explain, but I will try my best to point out the reason I divided the room into Seven parts:



1. Passion for Cinema: When you walk into the room, the first think you encounter is a collection of Film Posters on the wall (Read about my selection of Posters here), there are a total of 38 Film Posters, they are my favorite films from my favorite directors, I have designed some of the posters myself, others I have collected, some were given as a gift by friends (thanks Ruben), and I have printed most of them. The frame are made of wood, all in the same style; black. In a way, one side of the room is almost like a small wall on a museum to be looked at.



“Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”
― from Walden (1854) by  Henry David Thoreau.

Tolstoy standout about the rest

Tolstoy standout about the rest

2. DVD and Book Collection: On the other side of the wall, hang floating shelves, therefore taking very little space, for now; space are filling up, which mean in the future, I might have to add more shelves at the bottom of it. So far; it hold more than 720 DVD cases (total of 3330 DVDs in them), and more than 200 book. Although I primarily collect DVDs from Criterion, Master of Cinema, and other known publishing label, I also have large quantity of Film that I brought back from the States with only the disk and no cases, a reason that I decided to display the DVDs by directors and countries, for example; I have the complete works of Hitchcocks both on DVDs and Blu-rays, for the blu-rays they are in their own cases, but for the DVDs, I have combined many film into one case, therefore saving space, same is true for Soviet cinema; I managed to display one hundreds years of Soviet films into at total of 96 DVDs cases, there are total of 645 DVDs in those 96 cases.

On Design: Book Covers

Art and Literature, Update & News

01 Childhood, Boyhood and Youth

“Beauty: the adjustment of all parts proportionately so that one cannot add or subtract or change without impairing the harmony of the whole.”

On Painting” by Leon Battista Alberti

Two years ago, I decided to design my own personal covers for my book collection of Classic Russian Literature, within a month, on my spare time, I managed to design covers for all the collected works of Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol and Alexander Pushkin. A few weeks ago, when a friend visited my room, I was asked to write an article for a local magazine on the nature of design and my interpretation it, below are some extract from that article:

When setting out to design, two things are important to consider as the layout map for the whole design: Space and Objects (if you are designing a visual multimedia, the third thing to consider is: Time). One might simply consider the whole creation of Universe as a balanced act of Space, Objects and Time, without being philosophical, same thing apply to  designing a book cover or a space rocket. A harmonic combination of space and objects is all that is need to create a style, but one’s placement of objects within the space might take multiple experiment in order to create a perfect geometrical harmony, there are few rules to follow; from golden rule ratio to Fibonacci Numbers, to choosing a simple geometric shape.

Fibonacci Numbers

Fibonacci Numbers

For my style, I copied from the best; since I started collecting books, one of my hobbies was to collect Penguin Books;  it was for the simple reason for their beautiful cover design, crossing from one book into another. I copied the same style for each author’s book; there were a total of 25 Volume of Tolstoy’s work and a total of 17 from Turgenev, and only a unified design in the form of a series, with repetition of the same theme and style had a chance of creating a unified volume of works for each authors.

Penguin Books Design

Penguin Books Design

Unless you are master painter or a have a perfect eye for mathematical calculation and colors, then avoid using simple tools to design; it is recommend to use software when setting out to design, for Book and DVD covers, I would recommend you familiarize yourself with software such as; Adobe Illustrators, InDesign and Photoshop,  because one way or another, you will end up needing all three in combination for your work. Still; when you first create your layout, a paper, pencil and a ruler is all that you need. It is in the layout process that you map out the objects of your design in perfect harmony with the space that is provided for you.

In my case; I designed a cover for A4 papers, depending on your taste or your clients, you may have a different space to  work with. One layout is all that is required for creating a series, once you decide on the layout of the space, colors, fonts, and theme, you could easily save it as a template and repeat the same process over and over again, until you get bored with it, but in order not to get bored and the process of becoming repetitious; try making subtle changes; such as chanting the color of fonts, but try not to stretch each elements, making it independent form the series.

"Ukrainian Girl Tending Geese" (1892) by Nikolai Kornilievich Bodarevsky

“Ukrainian Girl Tending Geese” (1892) by Nikolai Kornilievich Bodarevsky


18 Father Sergius, The Wisdom of Children and other Stories

I used 18th and 19th century Russian Realism painting as  a unified theme for all my cover design, each painting were carefully chosen to reflect the time of the book and the painting, but most important; the theme of the cover and the book were one in nature, the saying might go; “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but the truth is; many do judge a book by its cover, so any image, illustration, painting and text you use must; one way or another, reflect the content of the book.

The Films of Aleksei German

Art and Literature, Film Diary, Film Review
Aleksei German (1938 – 2013)

Aleksei German (1938 – 2013)

A while ago, Aleksei German passed away from kidney failure in a hospital in Saint-Peterberg, for the past seven years, he was working on his unfinished masterpiece, History of the Arkanar Massacre aka Hard to Be a God, based on the Strugatsky brother’s science-fiction novel, he never finished it.The film now in the editing and post-production stage, and according to his son, Aleksei German, Jr, it is to be released within a year, or maybe more.

History of the Arkanar Massacre (Aleksei German, 2013)

History of the Arkanar Massacre (Aleksei German, 2013)

In the span of more than 40 years, Aleksei German only made six films, his first was co-directed with Grigori Aronov, and his last, unfinished. His short cinematic resume is perhaps one reason that he is unknown to many film viewers, a pity, for he is among the masters of Soviet Cinema, believe it or not, three years after making My Friend Ivan Lapshin in 1984, the film was voted by Soviet critic and filmmakers as the greatest Soviet film ever to have been made, surpassing all the previous masters. Looking back to my film diary, here is my short reviews to all the films from a forgotten master; Aleksei German, and impatiently waiting to see History of the Arkanar Massacre.

Sedmoy sputnik aka The Seventh Companion (Aleksei German and Grigori Aronov, 1968)

Sedmoy sputnik aka The Seventh Companion (Aleksei German and Grigori Aronov, 1968)

Sedmoy sputnik aka The Seventh Companion (Aleksei German and Grigori Aronov, 1968) Aleksei German’s directorial debut, The Seventh Companion was co-directed with Grigori Aronov, based on a novel by Boris Lavrenev, before directing the film, Aleksei German was a student of Grigori Kozintsev, and The Seventh Companion shows the influence of Kozintsev, it is a realistic and fascinating film that seem to have been made in Soviet days of 1930s rather than in 1960s with the acting, dialogue, set designs, and the cinematography re-creating the realistic and nostalgic early days of the Union . The story take place during the early days of the Revolution, Yevegeny Adamov (Andrei Popov) is a former general of Czar’s Army, a professor at the military academy, when taken to custody, he obey and later join the new force of the Bolsheviks, although his joining is a matter of will to continue to live, for he has no home nor any family left to return to, and he is dire need of food and shelter, he is never convinced of the Bolshevik ideology, when later captured by the White and he refuse to join them, asked as to why he had joined the  Bolshevik and would not join his old army?, his answer is rather a philosophical one, “When a large body passes through space, smaller bodies are drawn into its orbit. Sometimes against their will”, it is indeed against his will that the forces of revolutions and wars drive him from fate into another; he become a prisoner of the Reds, a homeless man, then a worker, a soldier of the red army and finally a prisoner of the Whites, and not once, does he question nor condemn his fate, rather, he goes alone with it, he is a man who time and circumstances shapes his life, always for the worse, but he lives with it, he is a man whom history will never remember, for neither he is a hero nor a villain, but a simple man, a victim of his time.

Proverka na dorogakh aka Road-Checkpoint (Aleksei German, 1971

Proverka na dorogakh aka Road-Checkpoint (Aleksei German, 1971

 Proverka na dorogakh aka Road-Checkpoint (Aleksei German, 1971) Road Check-point is a timeless masterpiece from a master, Aleksei German. It is a revisionist war film in which the hero of the film is no other than a former traitor and collaborator of the German Nazi invaders, when giving a second chance, as Aleksei lets him have it, he prove himself to be a hero of the Red Army and the motherland, but he is unsung hero like many of the Partisans that he fight alongside, in Aleksei German’s war films, it is no words and tactical planning of generals and army big shots that decide the fate of winning or losing a war, but the individual actions of the foot soldiers, they are the real hero, they are the ones who change the rules of the game. It is no wonder that the film was banned and shelved for 15 years, for the hero of the film, Lazarev is anything that one may consider a war hero, but his self sacrificing action is what save the others, and in process redeem himself. Shot in gritty black and white, monochrome tone, with long takes and subtle silent acting, with explosive action sequences, Road-Checkpoint is not only one of Aleksei German’s masterpiece, but it is among one of the best war films ever to come out of the Soviet Union, it pay tribute to those that history will never mention, nor will they be remembered, the theme is best visualized at the end of the film; as the train leave dying Lazarev, crawling to make it, but fail, and the living reaming partisans has to push the machinery of war from behind, always struggling, the story of unsung hero.

Dvadtsat dney bez voyny aka Twenty Days Without War (Aleksei German, 1976)

Dvadtsat dney bez voyny aka Twenty Days Without War (Aleksei German, 1976)

Dvadtsat dney bez voyny aka Twenty Days Without War (Aleksei German, 1976) Aleksei German is famous for casting his actor against the system, and perhaps no other actor in his films has being miscast as Yuri Nikulin playing the role of a major Lopatin in Twenty Days Without War, and  Nikulin delvers, for in real life he fought many battles during WWII, only later to become a comic actor, the irony of it. In Twenty Days Without War, everything is foggy, life on the battlefield is equally as cruel as in the home front, getting 20 days leave to go back to Tashkent after the battle of Stalingrad, Lopatin only find the effect of the war on the people more devastating than on the soldier on the battle front, and he is puzzled by the naivety of the people, especially the intellectual class, artist and filmmakers as to their romantic notion of wars, heroic deeds and glory, when his 20 day leave is cut short, he is indifferent to it, as going back to the front, he know the war will be long, but more important, he knows that after the war, his life will be even a longer struggle to overcome what he had lost during the war, as always, at the end of an Aleksei German, the viewer is left with the collectivity of the emotional impact of the film, his last few images always speak for the whole film; Upon returning to the front, he walk with three other soldiers to join his outfit, only to shelled, when surviving, amid the foggy and smoky landscape, the soldiers talk about their planning after the war as they disappear from the screen into the smoke, Lopatin is silent, he has already experienced what  life after the war will be like, to him, the war and after the war is a long way from now, he is silent to others, but his voice-over speak his inner thoughts to the audience; “Though we’re plodding forward, we’re only in Kuban, and Berlin is a long way off. A long, long way.”

Moy drug Ivan Lapshin aka My Friend Ivan Lapshin (Aleksei German, 1984)

Moy drug Ivan Lapshin aka My Friend Ivan Lapshin (Aleksei German, 1984)

Moy drug Ivan Lapshin aka My Friend Ivan Lapshin (Aleksei German, 1984) Believe it or not, three years after making My Friend Ivan Lapshin, the film was voted by Soviet critic and filmmakers as the greatest Soviet film ever to have been made, with that, My Friend Ivan Lapshin was and is praised upon not only us one of the great Soviet film, and the crowning achievement of Aleksei German, who would go on to make only one other complete film. Like all of German films, the story is set in the past, in 1935s, during Stalin’s purge, the film is based on stories from Alekse’s father, Yurii German, it is told in flashback, and for once, in an Aleksei German film we have a few shot in color, very few scenes, but they are the only color footage that German ever shot. Ivan Lapshin is an investigator who share a commune flat with others, including our narrator and his father,a little kid of seven, we get a glimpse of each character in episodic turn; their relationship, struggle, hope, pessimism and desperation, but we rarely see our narrator as and adult and as a little kid, he is there only as a passive eye witness, for many incident take place without him being present, one might as well assume he had made a fictional recreation. What is significant about this film and all of the other films from Aleksei German is how raw his Mise-en-scène are; out of nowhere we see a passerby crossing the frame, or at a distance someone walk, two people talk, another one stare at the camera, his composition equally lack any priority to be given to characters or subjects, with long takes and pure black and white imagery, light bulbs overexposed, or scenes underexposed, the film is a realistic portrait of the time is choreographed to utmost details, such perfection give it a feeling of hyper realism in lyricism.

Khrustalyov, mashinu! aka Khrustalyov, My Car! (Aleksei German, 1998)

Khrustalyov, mashinu! aka Khrustalyov, My Car! (Aleksei German, 1998)

Khrustalyov, mashinu! aka Khrustalyov, My Car! (Aleksei German, 1998) I cant remember who said it, but the quote was “Khrustalyov, My Car! is a mix of Fedrico Fellini and Andrie Tarkovsky”, to some extent the quote speak best for the film, for it has a roller coaster ride with its unique characters of the likes in a Fellini film, as it also a film rich with Tarkovsky moments, but with hyper realism, saying that, one could never judge a film by comparing it to that of others. Khrustalyov, My Car! is a pure Aleksi German film, and perhaps his masterpiece. As always, expect masterful black and white cinematography,  especially the use of depth of field, it is used to highlight everything, not only the action within the frame, but characters insignificant to the action, passerby present for no reason; a man looking at a distance at the foreground where an argument is taking place, but he is light more brightly than the foreground, or suddenly, a character block the camera, we won’t see the action, or the action take place offstage, we only hear sound of the action, as always, long tracking shots and lengthy takes make the film depend very little on editing.  “The mills of the Gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine”,  said the Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus, so it is with General Yuri Glinshi, one moment he is exiled, next, he is by Stalin’s deathbed. The characters show their suffering and joy by action, not words or meditation, the General’s wife is sad, or rather, she is going mad after her husband is taken away,  she won’t sit and cry, nor would she talk to other about her misfortunes, rather, she pick a bucket full of dirty cloth and smash it on top of her head. When a character is hopeless to respond to violent, they slap themselves on the face, for they are hopeless. All the character in the film behave like children when driven to the edge, they react by use of violent to express their disapproval or by playing games and laughter to express their joy. The desperation and inability to control their life drive them to the edge, but this illusion of state of the mind as is with the General take a twist into the reality of the time, as he is falling from the grace, the film become an absurdest nightmare, as cruel fate make an animal out of him, in a demonstration of realism in violence and savagery that few films dare to get there,he is told. “Don’t tempt fate, mister”, tempt it or not, he has to live it, the life, the fall and rise of a General, his title alone determine how others view him, for his personality, deeds and character is judged by his position alone and nothing more.


The Most Beautiful: Expression in Time

Art and Literature, Culture, Music

The Most Beautiful: Expression in Time / True Heart Susie (D.W. Griffith, 1919)

Ah, the face, the expression of the face is a beautiful thing, captured in time, it is the most beautiful thing in the universe. You may say, what is expression of the face captured in time? It is those little split of second, when only the visual expression is capable of connecting the emotion that one is hiding, as time slows down into eternity, at that split of a second, language become secondary to the visual in connecting one’s deepest thoughts, almost like a magnate, both side are at the end of the receiving, giving and experiencing the same feeling.

Albert Camus (1947) © Henri Cartier-Bresson

If you ever been love, if you ever been out of love, meet the one you love most again, but unable to talk, you use expression in time in showing your emotion, you maybe be talking in language about Nuclear Physic, but your face express your emotion more than your deceiving language, as time slow down into eternity.  Ever been guilty of something and the person you talk to know your guilt, but both avoid talking about? or ever lied to someone and the one knows you are lying? or ever expressed a moment in which your life in a danger, you think you will die any second? as time stops, everything slow down, and you expression is lost in time, language in unable to express you emotion at those times, your memory became almost like a mirror reflecting the imagery in your expression, that is the most beautiful, because it is the only time in which one can tell that the ultimate truth in communication is reached.

The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (Charles Dawrin, 1872)

Charles Darwin wrote a brilliant small treatment on Expression of Emotion, not just in Human, but all other creatures, it is a recommend reading; The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)

Setsuko Hara in Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1954)
“When the emotion became too much to carry on silently…”

In life, those precious seconds passes in real time for an observer, stored in the subconscious, it is the task of Art to capture it, and above all the arts, it is Cinema that can capture that split second of magic of the human face so brilliantly, and no one, and I say it loudly, no one can capture that magnificent emotion like the great Japanese master, Yasujiro Ozu. The last 10 minute of Tokyo Story (1954) is a text book of capturing Human Expression in Time, such masterly in little calculation of gestures, actions, and movement of the face, just watch the great Setsuko Hara, how she avoid in language showing her true feeling, but the expression on her face communicate her emotion to the audience as if in whispers,  it is such a universal language in communication that you could read all her thoughts, and you can’t help yourself bursting into tears with her in the train, at the end of the film, as finally, the emotion became too much to carry on silently.

Boy carrying a wine bottle (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954) ©Henri-cartier Bresson

After cinema, it is Photography that manages to freeze those tiny moment in time, to me, Henri-cartier Bresson comes to mind, once in high school I saw his famed photograph,  Boy carrying a wine bottle (Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954) in a textbook, and the happy expression on the  face of that little boy, carrying those wine bottles was stuck in my mind, so stuck, that even now, I could clearly recall his happiness; so pure, innocent and gentle, and that little girl behind him, mouth wide opened, clapping, eyes full of laughter as if saying, “oops, I’m in the picture”, the images spoke the language of emotion.

A Girl at a Window (Rembrandt, 1645)

Portrait of a Boy (Rembrandt, 1665-1660)

There is also Painting, the master of capturing expression in time is no other than the Dutch master, Rembrandt, at times, looking at his painting, one could hear sounds, language spoken in gazes of the eyes alone, or the little twisting the lips, whispers, communicating a world full of secretes.

Audrey Hepburn as Natasha in War and Peace (King Vidor, 1956)

Then comes language, describing that magic moments in literature and poem, for poetry, Poe is the master, for he speak in images. For literature, it is no other than my favorite author, Tolstoy. The moment that always comes to my mind is from War and Peace; when Natasha meet Prince Andrew, after so many years, she meet the wounded and dying Prince Andrew; he got little tome to live, and Natasha, well, Natasha is incapable of expressing in word what her emotion express:

War and Peace (King Vidor, 1956)

From War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1869)

“….and she saw Prince Andrew clearly with his arms outside the quilt, and such as she had always seen him.

He was the same as ever, but the feverish color of his face, his glittering eyes rapturously turned toward her, and especially his neck, delicate as a child’s, revealed by the turn-down collar of his shirt, gave him a peculiarly innocent, childlike look, such as she had never seen on him before. She went up to him and with a swift, flexible, youthful movement dropped on her knees.

He smiled and held out his hand to her.

Prince Andrew collected all his strength in an effort to recover his senses, he moved a little, and suddenly there was a ringing in his ears, a dimness in his eyes, and like a man plunged into water he lost consciousness. When he came to himself, Natasha, that same living Natasha whom of all people he most longed to love with this new pure divine love that had been revealed to him, was kneeling before him. He realized that it was the real living Natasha, and he was not surprised but quietly happy.

Natasha, motionless on her knees (she was unable to stir), with frightened eyes riveted on him, was restraining her sobs. Her face was pale and rigid. Only in the lower part of it something quivered.

Prince Andrew sighed with relief, smiled, and held out his hand.

‘You?’ he said. ‘How fortunate!’

With a rapid but careful movement Natasha drew nearer to him on her knees and, taking his hand carefully, bent her face over it and began kissing it, just touching it lightly with her lips.

‘Forgive me!’ she whispered, raising her head and glancing at him. ‘Forgive me!’
‘I love you,’ said Prince Andrew.
‘Forgive what?’ he asked.
‘Forgive me for what I ha-ve do-ne!’ faltered Natasha in a scarcely audible, broken whisper, and began kissing his hand more rapidly, just touching it with her lips.
‘I love you more, better than before,’ said Prince Andrew, lifting her face with his hand so as to look into her eyes.

Those eyes, filled with happy tears, gazed at him timidly, compassionately, and with joyous love. Natasha’s thin pale face, with its swollen lips, was more than plain, it was dreadful. But Prince Andrew did not see that, he saw her shining eyes which were beautiful.”

Sebastopol Sketches (Leo Tolstoy, 1855)

A year ago, I experienced  a near death incident, and for a split second in time, everything stopped, it is hard for word to describe that feeling when one’s life is in danger to someone who had not experienced it, for it is beyond the law of Science and Logic, time seems to stop; as I was running, in the span of a short time, covering no more than 8 feet, so many different images and emotion flashed one after the others in my mind. Let Tolstoy describe best that split seconds of expression in emotion as time stops, how masterful the following description is of the last 5 second in the life of Praskukhin, only 5 second in time, but eternity in emotion:

Siege of Sevastopol (Franz Roubaud, 1854–1855)

From Sebastopol Sketches (Leo Tolstoy, 1855)

Praskukhin, who was walking abreast with Mikhaylov, had just left Kaliigin, and was beginning to revive a little, as he approached a less dangerous spot, when he saw a flash gleaming brightly behind him, and heard the shout of the sentry,” Mortar!” and the words of one of the soldiers walking behind, ” It will fly straight to the bastion!”

Mikhaylov looked back. The bright point of the bomb had just stopped in his zenith, when by its position it was impossible to determine its direction. But this lasted only a moment: faster and faster, nearer and nearer, so that the sparks of the fuse could be seen and the fatal whistling could be heard, the bomb was settling down straight over the battalion.

” Lie down,” cried somebody’s voice.

Mikhaylov and Praskukhin lay down on the ground. Praskukhin closed his eyes and only heard the bomb’s thud against the hard earth near by. A second passed, — it seemed an hour, — and the bomb did not explode. Praskukhin was frightened: had he been cowardly for nothing? Maybe the bomb had fallen some distance off, and he only imagined that the fuse was hissing near him. He opened his eyes, and it gave him pleasure to see Mikhaylov lying near his very feet, motionless on the ground. Just then his eyes for a moment met the burning fuse of the bomb spinning around within three feet from him.

Cold terror, which excluded all other thoughts and feelings, — terror seized his whole being. He covered his face with his hands.

Another second passed, — a second during which the whole world of feeling, thoughts, hopes, and recollections flashed through his imagination.

” Whom will it kill, — me or Mikhaylov ? or both of us ? And if me, where will it be ? In the head, — then all is ended ; but if in the leg, they will amputate it, and I will insist on their giving me chloroform, and I may still live. And, maybe, it will kill only Mikhaylov: then I will tell how we walked abreast, and how I was bespattered by blood, when he was killed. No, it is nearer to me — I will be the man!”

Here he thought of the twelve roubles which he was owing Mikhaylov, and of another debt in St. Petersburg, which he ought to have paid long ago; the gipsy melody which he had sung the night before passed through his mind. The woman whom he had loved appeared before his imagination in a cap with lilac ribbons; he recalled a man who had insulted him five years before, and whose insult he had not yet avenged, — though inseparably from these and from a thousand other recollections, the feeling of the present, the expectation of death, did not leave him for an instant.

” Still it may not burst,” he thought, and, with desperate determination, wished to open his eyes. But at this moment, even while his hands were closed, his eyes were startled by a red fire; with a terrible crash something struck his chest; he ran, tripped over his sabre, which was dangling between his legs, and fell on his side.

“Thank God! I am only contused,” was his first thought, and he wanted to touch his breast with his hands; but his arms felt as though fettered, and his head was as if in a vise. In his eyes flashed the soldiers, and unconsciously he counted them: ” One, two, three, soldiers ; and the one with his overcoat rolled under him is an officer,” he thought. Then a lightning flashed in his eyes, and he was wondering what it was they were firing, — a mortar or a cannon. Then they fired again; and there were more soldiers: five, six, seven soldiers passed by. He was suddenly horrified at the thought that they might crush him. He wanted to cry out that he was bruised; but his mouth was so parched that his tongue cleaved to the palate, and terrible thirst tormented him.

He felt that it was wet near his breast; this sensation of wetness reminded him of water, and he wanted to drink even that which caused that moisture.

” I must have braised the flesh as I fell,” he thought, and, beginning more and more to succumb to the fear that the soldiers, who continued flashing past him, would crush him, he collected all his strength, and wanted to shout, ” Take me !” But instead of this he groaned so terribly that he was horrified at the sound he himself made. Then some red fires leaped in his eyes, — and he thought that the soldiers were putting rocks on him; the fires leaped about ever less frequently, and the rocks pressed him more and more. He made an effort to push aside the rocks, and he no longer saw, nor heard, nor thought, nor felt. He had been instantly killed by a splinter that had struck his chest.

Tristan and Isolde (Jean Delville, 1887)

How about Music, the most abstract of all the art, can it capture human expression in time? Yes it can, when music speak in images, Richard Wagner does it best, he uses silence in order to stretch the time, painting pictures in Music, those magnificent long chords in Tristan und Isolde, stretched into eternity.

To Each a Season

Art and Literature, Recommended Reading

Four Seasons

As the Seasons change, so does my taste in reading, a taste that I developed from the early days of my boyhood, as I would lock myself in Winter to read and in Summer to be outdoor, observe. Nowadays when it comes to reading, I take on non-fiction works on Spring and Summer, and reading fictions on Autumn and Winter. Same is true when it comes to Film, I could only watch a Bergman, a Tarr, or a Tarkovksy film in Winter, the opposite is true for Ray, Hawks, Wilder and Peckinpah, they are for Summer viewing. As for Music, Spring and Summer are for Jazz, Techno and Rock, Autumn and Winter for the Classical music.

Spring by by Alexey Savrasov (1870s)

So, it is with this mood that I decided to take a shot at reading Classic Russian Literature this Autumn and Winter, the goal is (thanks to my e-book reader) to read and re-read the complete works of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, and Ivan Turgenev. Putting aside their major novels (which I have read more than once), I have concluded that if I could read 150 page/per day (my e-book reader page, that is!), dedicate two hours of reading time a day, I could finish them off within a span of four month and a half. The reading is done chronologically, from the first to the last work of the author.

A Winter Road by Alexei Savrasov (1870s)

As I re-read these work; I could recall  images, emotion and even sound of the times that I once read the works. Take the short paragraph below from Tolstoy’s Boyhood, I read the work on a rainy winter day in Dalton, Georgia. I was so obsessed with Tolstoy’s description of his boyhood (for it seemed so familiar with that of mine), that I could not help, but re-reading that short paragraph more than a dozen times, and I kept saying to myself, “I could have written that.”

Summer Landscape with Windmills by Aleksey Savrasov (1859)

For you see, in my boyhood, , I too felt that; “Death awaited me at any hour and at any minute, and wondering how it was people had not seen this before me, I decided that man cannot be happy otherwise than by enjoying the present and not caring for the future“, but  I did not go and spend all my saving on “honey cakes”, rather, I spend them on a chewing gum that I was very fond of, for beside the gum, you would get a playing card of a Football player, each numbered to complete a set of collection. I spent all my money on the chewing gums; chewing them under the shadow of a tree one windy summer afternoon,  sitting there, matching the card’s number one after another, care free of the world, living the moment. Thinking of it now, I could still taste that chewing gums, they were the best I ever  had, and so many of them. As for the cards, I still have them, they are collector’s item now, a complete set of them, whenever I look at them, I remember that  summer afternoon, so care free, then.

Autumn Landscape with a Swampy River in the Moonlight by Aleksey Savrasov (1871)

Boyhood by Leo Tolstoy: Ch. XIX


People will hardly believe what the favorite and most constant subjects of my thoughts were during the period of my boyhood, — for they were incompatible with my age and station. But, according to my opinion, the in-compatibility between a man’s position and his moral activity is the safest token of truth.

In the course of the year, during which I led a solitary, concentrated moral life, all abstract thoughts of man’s destiny, of the future life, of the immortality of the soul presented themselves to my mind, and my weak childish reason tried with all the fever inexperience to elucidate those questions, whose proposition marks the highest degree the human min d can reach, but the solution of which is not given to it.

It seems to me that the human mind in its evolution passes in every separate individual over the same path on which it evolves during whole generations ; that the ideas which have served for the basis of distinct philosophical theories form inseparable parts of mind; and that every man has more or less clearly been conscious of them long before he knew of the existence of philosophical theories.

These ideas presented themselves to my mind with such clearness and precision that I even tried to apply them to life, imagining that I was the first who had discovered such great and useful truths.

At one time it occurred to me that happiness did not depend on external causes, but on our relation to them; that a man who is accustomed to bear suffering could not be unhappy. To accustom myself to endurance, I would hold for five minutes at a time the dictionaries of Tatishchev in my outstretched hands, though that caused me unspeakable pain, or I would go into the lumber-room and strike my bare back so painfully with a rope that the tears would involuntarily appear in my eyes.

At another time, I happened to think that death awaited me at any hour and at any minute, and wondering how it was people had not seen this before me, I decided that man cannot be happy otherwise than by enjoying the present and not caring for the future. Under the influence of this thought, I abandoned my lessons for two or three days, and did nothing but lie on my bed and enjoy myself reading some novel and eating honey cakes which I bought with my last money.

At another time, as I was standing at the blackboard and drawing various figures upon it with a piece of chalk, I was suddenly struck by the idea: Why is symmetry pleasant to the eye ? What is symmetry ? It is an implanted feeling, I answered myself. What is it based upon ? Is symmetry to be found in everything in life ? Not at all. Here is life, — and I drew an oval figure on the board. After life the soul passes into eternity; here is eternity, — and I drew, on one side of the figure, a line to the very edge of the board. Why is there no such line on the other side of the figure ? Equally, what kind of an eternity is that which is only on one side ? We have no doubt existed before this life, although we have lost the recollection of it.

This consideration, which then appeared extremely novel and clear to me, but the connection of which I can barely make out now, gave me extreme pleasure, and I took a sheet of paper and intended to put my idea down in writing; but such a mass of ideas suddenly burst upon me that I was compelled to get up and walk about the room. As I walked up to the window, my attention was drawn to the horse which a driver was hitching to a water-cart, and all my thoughts centered on the solution of the question, into what animal or man the soul of that horse would pass after her death. Just then Volodya crossed the room and, seeing that I was deep in thought, smiled. This smile was enough to make me understand that all I had been thinking about was the merest bosh.

I have told this memorable incident only to give the reader an idea what my reasoning were like.

By none of these philosophical considerations was I so carried away as by skepticism, which at one time led me to a condition bordering on insanity. I imagined that nothing existed in the whole world outside of me, that objects were no objects, but only images which appeared whenever I turned my attention to them, and that these images would immediately disappear when I no longer thought of them. In short, I held the conviction with Schelhng that objects do not exist, but only my relation to them. There were moments when, under the influence of this fixed idea, I reached such a degree of absurdity that I sometimes suddenly turned in the opposite direction, hoping to take nothingness by surprise, where I was not.

What a miserable, insignificant mainspring of moral activities the human mind is!

My feeble reason could not penetrate the impenetrable, and in the labor which transcended its power, I lost, one after another, those convictions which, for the happiness of my life, I ought never to have presumed to touch.

From all that heavy moral labor I carried away nothing but agility of mind, which weakened my will-power, and a habit of constant moral analysis, which destroyed the freshness of my feeling and the clearness of my understanding.

Abstract ideas are formed in consequence of a man’s ability to grasp, consciously, the condition of his soul at a certain moment, and to transfer it to his memory. My inclination for abstract reasoning so unnaturally developed my consciousness that frequently, when I began to think of the simplest thing, I fell into the inextricable circle of the analysis of my thoughts, and I no longer thought of the question which occupied my attention, but I thought of the fact that I thought. If I asked myself: Of what am I thinking ? I answered: I am thinking of thinking. And what am I thinking of now ? I am thinking of thinking that I am thinking, and so on. Keason was lost in empty speculation.

However, the philosophical discoveries which I made flattered my vanity very much: I frequently imagined myself a great man who was discovering new truths for the good of mankind, and I looked upon all other mortals with a proud consciousness of my dignity. But, strange to say, whenever I came in contact with these mortals, I grew timid, and the higher I placed myself in my own opinion, the less I was able to express the consciousness of my own dignity before others, and could not even get accustomed to not being ashamed of every simplest word and motion of mine.

One World at a Time

Art and Literature, Recommended Reading, Short Story

Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)

It has been reported of Thoreau, when he lay dying, his answer to all the talk of hereafter was , “one world at a time”, it is quote that equally could apply to Leo Tolstoy, when it comes to his views on life and religion.

The great Tolstoy that we now remember for his epics, Anna Karenina and War and Peace, was a moralist, a humanist who loved preaching about love of others, and Tolstoy’s real works, those close to his heart came later in his life, decades after his epic works, as he wrote simple short stories, many in forms of fables, to educate the newly freed serfs, the simple peasants living in the countryside, he gave up writing for the intellectuals, in order to write for the  mass.


On his deathbed, the great Ivan Turgenev wrote Tolstoy a passionate letter; begging him to write another War and Peace, to get back to real writing, but Tolstoy never listened,  for about the year 1880, he buried himself in theology and the philosophy of religion, topics that he was obsessed with since his youth,  “I felt the need,” writes Tolstoy of his youthful period, “to be known and loved of all the world; to name my name, the sound of which would greatly impress everybody, so that they would troop round me and thank me for something”, that something was his moral teaching on life, love, and religion, the idea of founding a new, practical, earthly, dogmaless religion,  “a practical religion, not promising future bliss but giving bliss on earth.” All notions of immortality to Tolstoy was absurd, and his scheme in life was entirely to make men happy here and now, in the present moment; live now, not in the past, nor in the future.

“There is no greatness when there is not simplicity”

In What is Art?  Tolstoy went as far as refusing to label his early works as “works of art”,  he claim them as having no place among examples of good art, except for his late short works, considering them as an example of “universal art”. “‘The artist of the future will understand that to compose a fairy tale, a little song which will touch, a lullaby or a riddle which will entertain, a jest which will amuse, or to draw a sketch such as will delight dozens of generations or millions of children and adults, is incomparably more important and more fruitful than to compose a novel, or a symphony, or paint a picture, of the kind which diverts some members of the wealthy classes for a short time and is then for ever forgotten”

Leo Tolstoy

I will like to share with you two short stories from his late works, two of the best examples of Tolstoy’s  view on religions and life; in The Coffee-House of Surat, Tolstoy reject  all organized religion in favor of man’s individual spiritual belief, a simple tale, yet signify an examination of moral dilemmas that over centuries philosophers and scientist tried to prove or disprove; the existence of God and the meaning of God. Tolstoy was a spiritual man, not a religious one, he despised organized religions, and to him, spirituality and faith signified one word; love. Like a Sufi, he was always preaching and searching for  that little word, so you may say that the character of the Chinaman in the story, the student of Confucius is no other than Tolstoy himself preaching to us, the reader.


In Three Questions, it is love of life, of the present moment, that Tolstoy is preaching about, not regret for the past, not hope for the future, nor search for happiness in hereafter. Live the moment the best you can, for you only live now. The character of the hermit in the story is a almost a nihilist, and his view;  a nihilist point of view in life; “Remember then: there is only one time that is important — Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power”. Live one world at a time, my friend.

Here is to wise Tolstoy:

A Humble Life

                                                   THREE QUESTIONS (1903)

IT once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid, and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days, months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said, the people the King most needed were his councillors; others, the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood which he never quitted and he received none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving his bodyguard behind, went on alone.

When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

The King went up to him and said: ‘I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?’

The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.

‘You are tired,’ said the King, ‘let me take the spade and work awhile for you.’

‘Thanks!’ said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said:

‘Now rest awhile — and let me work a bit.’

But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said:

‘I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.’

‘Here comes some one running,’ said the hermit, ‘let us see who it is.’

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and rebandaged the wound. When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and was quiet; but the King was so tired with his walk and with the work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep — so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.

‘Forgive me!’ said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King was awake and was looking at him.

‘I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,’ said the King.

‘You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!’

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.

The King approached him, and said:

‘For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.’

‘You have already been answered!’ said the hermit still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

‘How answered? What do you mean?’ asked the King.

‘Do you not see,’ replied the hermit. ‘If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important — Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else: and the most important affair is, to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!’

                                         THE COFFEE-HOUSE OF SURAT (1893)

IN the town of Surat, in India, was a coffee-house where many travellers and foreigners from all parts of the world met and conversed.