The Power of Habit


Author: Charles Duhigg
Genre: Self-help, non-fiction
Title:  The Power of Habit
Published: 2012
Table of Contents: 3 parts, 9 chapters, afterword and appendix
Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: Published by Random House.  Cover design is  by  Anton Ioukhnovels.  It is  bright yellow  and just ‘jumps’ out  off the bookshelf! Dedication is to his family members.

Themes:  the power of ingrained habits
Trivia: 16 weeks on New York Times best sellers list 2012. The book did not reach the best books of  2012 according to the NYT. Goodreads review just in the month of april 2014 = 43. Total of 51.374 ratings and 4067  reviews on Goodreads,   It seems people  are eager to learn about  habits!!



  1. The first part of the book focuses on the role that habits play in our personal lives
  2. The second part of the book concentrates on how habits help shape businesses and organizations.
  3. The third and final part of the book shows the importance of habits in social movements.

Once habits are stored in our brain…

  • we can’t eradicate them from there.
  • we can create new habits that come to override the old ones.

According to Duhigg, the most effective way to modify your habits is to

  • attack the habit loop directly
  • replace an old routine that  has the SAME  cue   and  SAME  reward!




This is known as the golden rule of habit change.


Why did I  read this  book?

  • I came home from a fitness lesson feeling dejected, disappointed   yet  determined!
  • I was not able  to do one pull up in the rings.  I could not jump rope for 1 minute.  I needed a quick fix for my problem.
  • Lose 10 pounds!

Which habit did I want to change?

  • I was addicted to butterd toast with strawberry jam and   ‘CRAVED’  it  every morning with my coffee.
  • Cue =  coffee, routine = toast with butter/jam,  reward =   feeling of happiness, my craving was satisfied
  • I knew  this treat was filling me with useless calories. I had to break this habit…but how?
  •  Routine:  replaced  the bread  with knackerbrod, no butter  and  hard boiled egg.  Now that was simple….why did I need the book?


  • Duhigg explains  through a series  of success stories  how  we can  identify  our  keystone habit ( the one you want to tackle first).
  • Once this has been done  ‘small wins’ can occur and you can probably  alter yet other difficult  habits. ( cascading effect)
  • I was amazed  to learn  that 40 % of our daily routines  are habits!!
  • Weak point:   I found  some of the  success stories a bit long and  boring.
  • Strong point: The book is easy to ready  and revealed  some interesting test results  that have been done to prove  his points.
  • Would I recommend it?  Not  really,… just  try to follow  the ‘ golden rule of habit change!


Score:  2



Posted by on April 19, 2014 in Uncategorized


An Armenian Sketchbook



AuthorVasily Semyonovich Grossman was born on December 12, 1905, in Berdichev, a Ukrainian town that was home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities. In 1934. During the Second World War, Grossman worked as a reporter for the army newspaper Red Star, covering nearly all of the most important battles from the defense of Moscow to the fall of Berlin. While enjoying public success, worked on his two masterpieces, neither of which was to be published in Russia until the late 1980s: Life and Fate and Everything FlowsVasily Grossman  died on September 14, 1964.

Genre:  travel impressions
Title:     An Armenian Sketchbook
Published:   originally  published in 1965;  translated 2013
Table of Contents:  12 chapters,  111 pages

Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: Published by New York Review Boook Classics.  The cover is a photo Vasily Grossman with the Hellenistic Temple of Garni in the backround.  The was no dedication only an introduction written by Yury Bit-Yunan and Robert Chandlere ( September 2012). The  book  also contains 4 pages of photo’s, aknowledgements, notes and further reading suggestions.
Timeline:   November – December 1961
Setting:  Armenia,  Yerevan ( capital), mountain village Tsakhkadzor, Lake Sevan, Dilijan (resort and national park)


There is no other work by Grossman that gives us  so clear a sense of the man he was.

  1. That is why I’m going to make this review very personal to give you my ‘gut’ feeling about this book and how it made me think.
  2. This is the book I will read in the train to Heerenveen, The Netherlands 2 x a  week. I like to  watch the reactions of people trying to read the cover of the book.
  3. Everyone is mesmerized by their I-Phone or laptop.


11 April 2014:

There was just one other book reader on the train this week. It was a student who sat opposite me and his choice was: Beta voor Alpha’s  by D. Jeckel.

Chapter 4:

  • This   was the first section of the book that I liked. Grossman explains  that if we want national dignity and national  freedom we first have to find human dignity and human freedom.  I had to think about the  problems  in Ukraine and Russia while reading.  Reactionaries destroy what people share at a deep level.  “They perfer the husk to the kernel.”

17 april 2014:

No other travellers in my train coupé were reading a book. I-Phone, laptop are the order of the day.

Chapter 5:

  • Man in a jacket, feeling lost, shy, embarrassed is a strange town. Grossman wanders from squares into courtyards where he  sees  Eastern life and the ties that link everyone born in the village or town. I was impressed how  open Grossman is about his feelings. His blood pressure rises, while he  stands back to a wall terror-stricken. Here in Armenia he hopes to find quiet happines.

Chaper 6:

  • Places are empty without people. I  enjoyed Grossman’s powers of observation to reveal the quirks, sorrows  and beauty of the mountain  villagers in Tsakhkadzor wearing  torn quilted jackets, scarves and  stomping about in tall heavy boots,  Eyes: the gateway  the soul:  eyes red from smoke, coal-black eyes, bright eyes like glass grapes, light-blue eyes, eyelashes and brows the color of wheat, pale eyes, eyes with a bloodthirsty gleam, always lowered eyelids, eyes with a look of piercing melancholy, eyes containing a vast yearning, shining eyes full of life,




18 april 2014:

It is Easter weekend…no train travelling until after the holiday.

Chapter 9:

  • Grossman  explodes  into a powerful  comparison between the creations of  earthly gods vs  creatons of the Divine God.
  • The author admires these gods of pen, brush, piano keys and violin strings.
  • Perhaps their creations are silly, crazy or strange, yet it is an expression of a living soul.
  • The author questions the  Divine creations ( the souls of Eichmann, Hitler, Himmler) these generals and police covered in the silk shirts of exectioners. The Creator should show more modesty. Too much of the world was created in a frenzy, in too much of a hurry.
  • While reading this book I was introduced to a painter I never heard of.  Nicholas Roerich (1874 – 1947). I was speechless  by the beauty of his paintings….all in  different  shades  of  blue!





Chapter 10:

  • This chapter began with a bucolic  descripton of a  day trip  through a mountain pass on the way to Dilijan.
  • We see crystal peace and purity in the  quiet villages and snow-capped mountains.
  • Suddenly  we are confronted with  the question  ” Can there be courage in withdrawing from life?”  What is  suicide?  Why become a  hermit? These people are joined together because both  feel that their worldly lives don’t matter to them.  Yet another paragraph about the unquenchable anguish in our souls. You want to force yourself into Paradise by drinking to escape the clutches of despair. The doors of Paradise are closed to you, you still drink more.
  • This is an abrupt change of tone.
  • I found this a strong point in Grossman’s writing. He develops a tension, slight feeling of gloom as to what ‘abyss’  will  he jump into  next and jolt this outwardly peaceful  travel journal.

Chapter 11

Perfection:  Geghard Monastery

Grossman is introduced to  Vazgen I, ( 1908-1994)  the Catholicos ( head of the church)  of All Armenians. Grossman reveals to Vazgen that he wanted books to be like ancient Armenian churches ( see photo), simply made yet expressive.




  • I felt somewhat like Grossman  while reading the book.  He recalls the  longer he spoke to the dark, weather-beaten villagers,  the more  he was gripped by a feeling he had not expected. 
  • I was expecting  an objective glimpse of Armenia written by a russian  WW II correspondent.  I was surpised how warm, intense and deeply personal Grossman can write.
  • The book shocked me. I  found the  most memorable chapters to be numbers 10, 11 and 12. 
  • Read  them and perhaps  you will feel some  emotion or even  joy…as I did  when I realized I had discovered such a wonderful writer!
  • This is a small book but very powerful….and not to be missed.

 Score: 5




Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Uncategorized


Mali, ô Mali



Author:  Erik Orsenna is the pen name for Erik Arnoult ( 1947).
Genre:  novel
Title:     Mali, ô Mali  ( title  mentioned on  pg 19, pg 198, pg 241, pg 264, pg 395 and pg 399)
Published:   2014
Table of Contents:  There is no table of contents so  I had  to search for the chapters to discover  the structure of the book

Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: Published by Edtions Stock ( 2014).  The cover is a photo by Bernard Deschamps The gift of the river”, Mali, Sendégué, Niger river, 1997. The book is dedicated to Jean-Marc Roberts  with the following quote: ” tu ne seras jamais déçu par l’espérance”   You will never be disappointed by hope.
Timeline:  October 2012 – 2013
Setting:  Mali
Themes: save Mali from islamic   terrorists

Trivia:  The author has witten himself into the story! ( pg 253)  Mitterand criticizes Orsenna because he does not mention the spawn of  wives of African dignitaries  who make monthly trips to Paris  for ” le shopping”! This is a  waste of  the African people’s  money!

Main characters:

  • Mme Bâ:  retired teacher – She hears voices  as did Joan of Arc!  (able to save your country) !
  • Michel (Ismael) -      grandson (musician) ( renamed Ismael) = griot of Mme Bâ = storyteller – “bridge” between the reader and Mme Ba


On 22 March 2012, President  Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in  a coup d’état. Mme Marguerite Bâ was ( fictional that is)  a key player during  the French military Operation Serval on  11 January 2013.

  • Mme Ba (narrator) feels herself called by ‘voices’ ( à cause du vacarme) to save Mali from the Islamic fanatics in Northern Mali. The parallel with Joan of Arc is evident.
  • Mme Ba comes from a long line of Malian aristocratics and is considerd one of the Grandes Royales. Therefore she must have a griot. This is an oral historian that attends higher-ranked family members to preserve their legacies and adventures.
  • Michel ( renamed Ismael) is her grandson who is now the griot and narrator of the story starting with chapter 2.
  • I have divided the story into two parts: the essential and “ sections that just were exhausting and did add much to the story”.


  • -Mme Ba listen to stories of refugees in Bamako:
  • - She explains there is a second ‘river’ in Mali, the surge of unemployed youth with no hopes for the future. These are potential recruits for terrorist organizations.
  • - She vists nephew who is now a Malian minister and accepts the post as Malian representative to visit refugee camps in Niger.
  • - 2 French secret service agents (“Les Manches Courtes”) ask Mme Ba for help.
  • -They are aware of her ‘sensitive sense of hearing. (pg 170) Just like Jeanne d’Arc: “La France fasse appel à moi!” ( France has called upon me!).
  • - Mme Ba explains her goal: rid the desert of the dangerous Islamic fanatics and introduce contraception patches among the Malian women. (pg 201).
  • - Through her voices she is convinced she must go North and save the city of Mopti!
  • -How Mme Ba achieves her goals is described in the last four chapters. These chapters were THE most interesting!!

Exhausting  sections….

  • I just want to give you an idea  what I  was  up against.
  •   …..this author just went in every other direction.
  • Don’t feel you have to read the list….just added it for the visual!


  • - Rants: about service on Air France flight to Mali
  • - Rants: about a group of people welcoming some Tuaregs ( from West Africa) at Paris airport.
  • - Memories: about Malian musicians the “Rail Band” very famous in her time
  • - Downtime: Ismael , a failed soccer player in France ,starts kicking the ball around with village kids
  • - Downtime: Ismael joins up again with an old drug dealing buddy…. “talk about good times”
  • - Instruction: Ismael is sent to Kela ( center for griots) to learn the importance of his role
  • - Beards: Ismael must grow a beard if he is to be considered a good griot. ( Islamic thing)
  • - Trip to Senegal: to visit grandchild who runs a spa.
  • - Trip to Senegal: meets Ex-president Mali ATT ( Amadou Toumani Touré) in exile
  • - Transportation: Ismael struggles to keep pace with his energetic grandmother. – Mme Ba suggests they rent a moto bike instead of a stuffy old taxi .
  • - Bamako: Police nephew asks Mme Ba to visit presidential palace and confirm to public that there are no drugs there.
  • - Kati: vists this town where the coup d’état took place 22  March 2012.
  • -Mme Ba meets Capt. Ouaga, head of Malian armed forces! Tells captian that he should be up North on the front lines instead of sipping a drink on the terrace!
  • - Supplies: Mme Ba is ordering equipment at an internet café for her next adventure  up North!
  • - Corruption: A young woman tells Mme Ba she has to pay to get her cousin in the army and has to pay to get his death certificate.
  • - Journalists: Mme Ba reads article calling for people to help the children in the war zone  up North.
  • -She is delighted to welcome the journalists. She is ready to help and Ismael must go with her ( he is not happy about the idea .)
  • - Transportation: – Unfortunately another ridiculous chapter about Ismael’s  lessons in car repair!
  • - If  the TOYOTA truck   breaks down  up  North at least he can fix it for Mme Ba. Ridiculous!
  • - Toyota’s:  Another story about Libya vs Chad conflct and how the Toyota’s of Chad ‘flew’ over the mine fields! – ridiculous
  • - Chinese: soldiers on ship travelling up the Niger river end up repairing airco for passengers b/c Malian crew are clueless!

I could go on….and on…..and on…..


  • I have tried to underline each mention of  “a  voice”.
  • Mme Bâ   hears the voices but I’m not always sure who is speaking,  her deceased husband, Jeanne d’Arc herself?


  • Chapter 1 ( 0  x voice) – France
  • Chapter 2 ( 2 x voices) – Mail
  • Chapter 3 ( 5 x voices) – Mali
  • Chapter 4 ( 3 x voices) – Mali
  • Chapter 5 ( 3 x voices) – Mali
  • Chapter 6 ( 0  x voices) – Senegal
  • Chapter 7  (2 x voices) – Mali

Weak points:

This book contains NO list of  abbreviations ( terrorist groups,  currency used in Central Africa…CFA)   and only 2  sketchy maps.

Orsenna scatters  Islamic terms and words throughout the book. It does give the book some ‘flavor’ but I would have appreciated a list of the meanings. After every  term Orsenna asked  “tu sais ce que c’est?”  I had to answer no.

Book is structured with conversations between many characters . Of course questions are asked, but it did not help the flow of reading. It soon became just irritating.

Pages  are filled  with dialogue  and many ‘question marks”!

  • Chapter Livre d’Or et un  Bapteme:              8 pages     59 questions marks
  • Chapter Les mauvaises nouvelles              31 pages – 213  question marks
  • Chapter L’utilité du footbal                         22 pages – 111 question marks
  • Chapter Les colines du pouvoir                 28 pages – 155 question marks
  • Chapter Le Nouveau Visage de l’Afrique  12 pages – 48  question marks
  • Chapter  Eloge du fleuve Niger              35 pages – 181 question marks


  • I had to do some research as to who is fighting whom and why! 
  • I would have appreciated more informaiton from the author  himself.  ( I made a short summary at the end of the review about conflict in Mali)
  • I have to do extra work to understand some West-Africa references:  epoux peul ( spouse of Fulfa people)  – village haoussa ( village of Hausa people)



  • Each day I hoped the story of Mme Bâ, the Jeanne d’Arc of Mali, would  improve but it did not. The story  went from crazy to crazier.  I appreciated only the sections in which Mme Ba  became  philosophical. For instance she helps a mother and daughter along the way by offering them a ride in her dugout boat up the Niger River.  She asks them  to explain to her  what is the cause of their ‘fatigue’.  It comes at all hours, the fear of theft, rape and murder.
  • The most memorable chapters contained more reflection: Tombouctou and Hotel Mandé.
  • Book is riddled  with names of  comtemporay  French/African   politians, soccer players, musicians, photographers, hip-hoppers. Perhaps Orsenna thought is would give the book some sparkle….I just found it  very  distracting. It felt like a ‘gimmick’ . For instance.. do you know who these people are?  Zié Diabeté, Mory Kanté, Amadou Kienou, Michel Platini, Oxmo Pucciono, Ambroise Matussière,
  • I did not enjoy the book:  action moves at a sail’s pace and  storyline is fragmented.
  • Erik Orsenna is an accompiished author. One does not get elected to L’Académie française if one cannot write!  I guess he and I just did not ‘click’
  • I am anxious to read more reviews about this book in  French magazines/newspapers just to see what the general opinion is in the  ” literature world”. I purposely did not read about the book so my opinions would be only my own.
  • In short,  if you are feeling  adventurous…take a chance with this book….only remember it will be a challenge!

Score: 1

Erik OrsennaExpressions:

  • prendre la mouche – to fly off the handle; to suddenly become angry
  • on m’ a dit que – I was told that…
  • on aurait dit que – It was like; one would think that…
  • il faut dire que – it must be said

Quick reference:

  • Balewell – husband – died 30 June 1983 ( speaks to her….)
  • Corinne – friend ( gynecologist) who she helped  setting  up a ‘planned parenthoof’ office for immigrant African women
  • Ambroise Matussière – photographer who almost married Mme Bâ so she would not be expelled from France. Was this her true love?
  • Minister Coulibaly -  Mme Bâ’s  nephew
  • Ibrahim ( gendarme)  -  family member – married to Awa  ( head of the family)
  • Kamale Sidibé – director of refugee camp Niger
  • Capitaine Ibrahim Joseph Ouaga -  Malian army chef
  • Tiecouro – drugdealing buddy of  Ismael
  • Bia Zerbo – garagiste
  • M. Baba Sékéné – journalist
  • Mme Sangha – patron of ECD ( école contre le désert)
  • Idrissa – Joseph ( Mme Bâ’s grandson)  owns spa in Dakar, Senegal
  • ATT – ex president Mali Amadou Toumani Touré
  • Dia ( father – Sékéné ( son)  members of crew on the dugouts travelling  up the Niger River with Mme Ba
  • Abdel Kader Haidara – is trying to save the precious manuscripts from conflct in the North ( Niafunké)


Backround information:

Information  about the Northern Mali Conflict is essential if you want to  understand what is going on with Mme Bâ

Here  is  a  link I used  to  keep  up-to-date  with the ongoing crisis  in Mali: The Long War Journal

  •  In Mali, for instance, an al Qaeda branch that was once written off as nothing more than a “nuisance” to the residents of the countries in which it operated managed to take over a large swath of territory, thereby forcing the French to intervene.
  • Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its allies imposed their harsh sharia law on the residents of Mali at gunpoint, destroying local Muslim traditions and practices until the jihadists could be dislodged from power.
  • Even now, ( November 2013)  however, the al Qaeda-led alliance threatens Mali. Many of the jihadist fighters melted away into neighboring countries, where, free from the West’s superior military might, they have regrouped and lived to fight another day.

629px-Azawad_Tuareg_rebellion_2012_-_2.svgAqmi and Ansar Dine

  • The AQIM (Algerian-dominated) network includes groups that are frequently identified as “local” jihadist organizations.
  • It is widely believed that groups such as Ansar al-Dine and the Ansar al Sharia chapters are not really a part of the al Qaeda network in North and West Africa. But, as I explain, this view is based on a fundamental misreading of al Qaeda’s objectives.
  • Western analysts should be careful not to underestimate the current or future capabilities of al Qaeda’s many branches.
  • Prior to its takeover of much of Mali, the AQIM threat was widely viewed as a criminal problem. Kidnappings for ransom, contraband smuggling, and extortion were and remain key AQIM operations. But the organization and its allies have now demonstrated a much more lethal capability. They have proven capable of taking and holding territory in the absence of effective central government control.
  • Given that some of the governments in North Africa have only a tenuous grip on power, AQIM and its allies may have the opportunity to acquire additional territory in the future. They will continue to contest for control of parts of Mali, especially after the French withdraw their troops.


  • The US State Department added an operative from the al Qaeda-linked Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) who is involved in kidnapping, weapons smuggling, and armed attacks to its list of global terrorists.
  • MUJAO was formed in late 2011 as an offshoot from al Qaeda, the Islamic Maghreb, the al Qaeda affiliate in North Africa,
  • At the time of its formation, MUJAO expressed affinity to al Qaeda and its founder, Osama bin Laden, and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • MUJAO is one of three major al Qaeda-linked groups that participated in last spring’s invasion of northern Mali.
  • Along with AQIM and Ansar Dine, MUJAO took control of northern Mali after the Malian military overthrew the government in the south.
  • MUJAO, AQIM, and Ansar Dine fought alongside the secular Tuaregs from the Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to take control of northern Mali, but then quickly cast aside the MNLA and imposed sharia, or Islamic Law, in areas under their control.
  • The three al Qaeda groups lost control of northern Mali only after French troops invaded in January 2013. The three terror groups were marching south on the capital and Malian forces were in disarray before the French troops intervened.

Ansar al-Dine  (AAD)

  •  Mali was the first instance in which AQIM attempted to govern a large amount of territory based on its sharia code.
  • In taking over two-thirds of Mali, AQIM partnered with other organizations that shared its desire to see sharia implemented. Chief among these is Ansar al-Dine (AAD), which was added to the U.S. government’s list of global terrorist organization in March 2013.


Mokhtar  Belmokhtar ( Algerian terrorist):

  •  In June 2013 the U.S. government announced a “$5 million reward for information leading to his location .
  • August 2013 a communique on the Mauritanian news agency ANI announced the fusion of Belmokhtar’s group with MUJAO, another Al Qaida offshoot to form the  Al Mourabitoun group

Islamic State of Azawad

in April 2012, the city of Gao  along with Timbuktu and Kidal, comprised the short-lived “Islamic State of Azawad” in northern Mali.

The leader of the coup, Captain Amadou Sanogo, a former English teacher at the military base in Kati, said it had been staged in retaliation for Touré’s poor handling of a Tuareg rebellion in the north of the country.



Posted by on April 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


New Books !!



Central Park  ( G. Musso)  – 2014

This author is new to me  but seems to have quite a following in France! I don’t read many psychological thrillers….will just have to take a chance!

The Spinoza Problem ( I. Yalom)  – 2012

I discovered this book via a  French  blogpost and was fascinated with the mix of Golden Age of  Amsterdam  and  Nazi WW II  as a backdrop.  What a clever combination and will be interested how these two worlds will collide.

Mali ô Mali  ( E. Orsenna) – 2014

I read an article about this book in Le Point  magazine ( France).   Time to plunge  into the world of Mali, Tombouctou and  Madame Bâ Marguerite, the African Jeanne d’Arc!

About Love ( A. Chekhov short stories) – 2004
Look what I found  on my bookshelf,  short stories by Chekhov.   After  reading  Het brilletje van Tsjechov by M. Krielaars  I’ve decided to  start reading more Russian Literature.

An Armenian Sketchbook ( V. Grossman) -  1962   translated 2013

This book is  a suggestion   from  a  Louise  (a booklover  on Goodreads). Her review convinced me to  discover yet another part of the world, Armenia.

The Winter Queen ( B. Akunin)  – 1998

I found  this book via a  tweet  from Pieter Waterdrinker ( Dutch  writer and correspondent in Moscow  @WaterdrinkerP ). He mentioned that Boris  Akunin was one of the few Russian writers who has spoken out against the Kremlin. I’m starting with one of his best known books.   Moscow, May 1876: What would cause a talented young student from a wealthy family to shoot himself in front of a promenading public in the Alexander Gardens? This thrilling mystery brings 19th-century Russia to vivid life.






Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


Het Brilletje van Tsjechov


Author:   Michel Krielaars
Genre:    Travel journal
Title:        Het brilletje van Tsjechov
Published: 2014
Table of Contents: 76 short impressionistic scenes that focus on a particular insight about Russia
Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: Published  by Atlas Contact
Timeline: 1989 – 2012
Setting:  Russia
Themes: traveling; looking beyond your own borders

Michel Krielaars takes the reader on a special journey through ‘ his ‘ Russia starting as a student of Russian Literature and ending with his 5 year position as Moscow correspondent for  the NRC newspaper. The book combines a travel narrative, which includes

  • bits of conversations
  • fine descriptive writing
  • personal observation
  • anecdote
  • social analysis.


Strong points :

I found  that Krielaars writes what he feels about Russia and that is always more interesting than simply reporting the facts. We get a closer look at alcoholism, position of women, politics, police, health care in this country.

There is indeed  a golden thread that runs through the book.  Michel Krielaars  shows us that  Russia in the time of Chekov  is strangely  similar to the Russia of  Putin.  During Krielaars’s walks  we see the agression felt in clubs against gays, terrible conditions in hospitals, inveterate corruption in all levels of society,  a fragile sub-class of people dressed in rags and living from hand to mouth.

During Krielaars’s walks through  the cemetaries  he sees the  tombstones. The young generation was dying due to poor living conditions under the czars, war under Stalin and vodka  under Putin. A quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7% of men in the UK and about 10% in the United States. The life expectancy for men in Russia is 64 years, placing it among the lowest 50 countries in the world in that category. The Russians drink 15 liter pure alcohol per person  per year.


Writing style:

Metaphors: I enjoyed the fresh, compact and unexpected  metaphors ( comparisons)  that Krielaars used. Here is an example:

St. Petersburg –   After 2 world wars, 3 revolutions, 1 civil war and 900 days  siege  by the Germans the town had lost some of its sparkle. It was like a glamorous evening  gown that  had deteriorated after stress, strain an overuse. You could see through fabric.

Sense of place:  Krielaars is  a master in creating a sense of place where ever he goes!  I found the chapters   Terug in Moscow, Aan Tafel and Ondertussen in Melichovo   to be most memorable . (pg 253 – 271)



Krielaars  weaves his  encyclopedic knowledge of Russian writers into his stories. Obivously Chehov is often referred to but also Gogol, Dostoyevski, Radisjtsjev, Pasternak. Krielaars reminds me about all the books in Russian Literature that are just out there  waiting to be discovered. I learned French to read the great writers so as  Zola, Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert  without losing anything in translation. I only wish I could learn Russian too.


I hope my neighbour didn’t hear me laugh while reading l this book late at night in my bedstead ( dutch = bedstee; french = châlit)… walls can be thin in old houses. The contrasts between two cultures  ( Dutch – Russian) are hilarious. An ambitious  Dutch IT engineer who arrives for a business meeting ends up half naked, sipping vodka and eating smoked fish in a Russian sauna. Contracts and strategy will be discussed but first you have to learn to enjoy life. It’s not easy to shake off  the  Dutch Calvinistic work ethic!

Krielaars  sumed  up the country in this  short sentance: Russia:  “This is a country that has a drink for every hour, vodka, champagne or cognac.”


That was the first word that came into my mind when I finished some of Krielaar’s stories. More than once I was deeply moved ( bouleversée, émute) by these impressions of a Chekov’s Russia.  In ” Tea time with the nobility”  we meet Mrs. Kljoetsjevskaja.  Proud of her ties to the Russian Czar Nicolas II yet  she was aware of the potential hostility this could cause in her surroundings. She shivers  despite her thick fur coat while in private prayer by the family grave. Krielaars wrote the next line and it took my breath away:

” ..perhaps it was history that brushed along side her…”           (Waarschijnlijk was het de geschiedenis die voorbijkwam)



  • This book is  ‘beyond’  wonderful,  it is amazing.
  • I could have finished it  yesterday but wanted to savour it as long as possible.
  • I was enchanted by each and every word. Krielaars breaths life into Chekhov and through his  “brilletje” ( pince-nez) reveals to the reader  Russia with all its contrasts.
  • The author follows  the footsteps of Chekhov during his  youth,  his early carriere as writer, his travels  along the Volga and through Siberia to Vladistok. Along the way we are enriched with information about  Russian politics, other great Russian writers.
  • Krielaars has written a book that I would highly recommend. 
  • He shows us how Chekhov held a mirror in front of his reading public to show them  what Russia really looks like.
  • Krielaars has  taken Chekhov’s  themes and shows us that  110  years later Russia  has not changed very much. It is still not ripe for democracy.
  • I  hope that  “Het brilletje  van Tsjechov”  will be translated into English  very soon so more readers can enjoy Michel Krielaars’s  book.
  • His writing  is  polished and his impressions of  Russian culture are emotionally based and  full of  humor, irony and tragedy…….just like Chekov!

 Michel Krielaars



Isaak Levitan – painter ( Chekov  considered him better than Monet and Cezanne!)

Good Evening


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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in Uncategorized


Médecin de campagne



  • Author: Louis Tamain
  • Genre: Memoire
  • Title:  Médecin de Campagne
  • Published: 1983
  • Table of Contents:   60 short chapters
  • Book/Printing/Cover/ Dedication: Published by De Borée. The cover is selected from Getty Images ( never know who took the foto). Lovely dedication to the readers from the author. Louis Tamain also writes a personal dedication ” à <Elle> avec ma profonde affection, ce livre bourré de souvenirs communs.”
  • Timeline:  40-45  year periode  as village  doctor (it is an estimate): chapters 1-2 ( present), 3-8  (flashback 25 yrs),  9- 8 (flashforward 15 yrs),  10 –> 60 in chronological order.
  • Setting: Perigord , France
  • Themes:  describe  realistic lives  in the countryside….in all their details, but without moral judgment
  • Trivia:  Louis Tamain (1920)  is a retired physician
  • Trivia:  <ELLE>   is mentioned throughout the book…must be a reference to his wife who is never named.


  • This is a series of short stories and  anecdotes set in Perigord France.
  • It reflects a time when life was simple in the countryside.
  • Doctors were knowledgeable in matters of medicine  as well as   in matters of  the  people they cared for.
  • Villagers are poor and bills are sometimes paid in ‘natura’ as baskets full of eggs, chickens, rabbits and even snails are left humbly in the corner of the office.
  • Discretion is used while treating the gypsies  because  it is important to gain their trust and treat them with respect,  just like all the other clients.
  • Tamain’s goal was to entertain the reader  but  he also wanted to show us  that:  “le médecin n’est pas un homme comme les autres…”  ( the doctor is not a man like the others….)


Structure:   Smooth  and logical

Point of view:   Narrator is the doctor.  I could not find  one  page where I learned the docter’s  name!  He is the narrator and is always  referred to as ‘le docteur’!

Strong points:

Due to the  many pages  of  dialogue  I’m learning   phrases that would be used in  ‘every day  conversations’. It is good  to read other books instead of concentrating on Zola.

Good descriptions: 

  • austere way of life in the country
  • doctor’s  waiting rooms with bare walls, light bulb hanging on a wire and small  grilled windows. One feels  as if it is a place of meditation. instead of medicin;
  • mountain cottages warmed by a huge fireplace and  full of provisions for the long winter.

Weak points:

There are so many characters,  (villagers, doctors, patients) …it is sometimes  overwhelming.

Chapters  31 – 40:  It feels like Louis Tamain  is  running  out of steam.  I keep reading  but I feel as if I’m on automatic pliot. It is just too much of the same.


  • Tender, touching and sometimes caustic  stories about  the  experiences of  a French country doctor.
  • Louis Tamain explains  in these stories  that the patients expect  so much from their doctor: devotion, discretion, patience.
  • Unfortunately we must not forget that doctors are human and  cannot live up to everyone’s expectations no matter how hard they try.
  • I had difficulty starting the book but is always the case when I read a new author. I just have keep reading. This  picture  helped me stay  focused.



  • Due to the varied  subject matter ( births, traffic accident with a  livestock truck (jick), harvest of grapes in vinyard and search for truffels with a sow, interviews with patients concerning their problems ( physical / mental)  my vocabulary has increased considerably.
  • The  stories are written  with such compassion,but I must add after reading  30 chapters  about  bucolic bliss, I’ve  come to the conclusion  this book is 20 chapters  too long!
  • The book had  its  moments but I  was exhausted  after reading  so  many anecdotes ( some  very  trivial) about the country life.

Score: 2

Dr. Louis Tamain:





  • décrocher la timbale – to bring home the bacon
  • payer rubis sur l’ongle -  to pay  cash on the barrel
  • C’était bien ma veine!  – Just my luck!
  • à tout bout de champ – at every oppurtunity
  • Rien n’y fit – all was in vain; without result
  • rester sur mes gardes – to keep alert
  • il ne manquait plus que – ALL  that was missing (  so difficult to translate….I see  one thing ( Il ne….plus que)  and it = ALL !
  • tant bien que mal – = somehow     (  tant = too bad,  bien que = even though, mal = badly)  -  The language is a puzzle!
  • Je me suis fait  un sang encre -  I have been worried sick
  • tout bonnement – quite simply
  • La moutarde lui monter au nez -  to lose one’s patience; imagine the expression on your face if you ate a spoonfull of mustard!  (La moutard commençait à me monter au nez!)
  • être/se trouver entre le marteau ( hammer)  et enclume  ( anvil) – to be between a rock and a hard place.
  • avoir un violon d’Ingres – to have a hobby you are passionate about. ( Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres was a painter, 2nd hobby was playing the violin!)
  • en fin de compte – ultimately, at the end of the day
  • mettre la charrue avant les boeufs – to put the cart before the horse

Posted by on April 5, 2014 in Uncategorized


Mes tulipes noires ( Dumas)


Alexandre Dumas  was my inspiration to plant my own    La Tulipe Noire !

After  six months of waiting  here are the results…. our   ‘ national  treasures’     TULIPS!!



Flowers  that  just  brighten  up my day while I’m  reading!







Posted by on April 2, 2014 in Uncategorized


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