Review: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is harkup-book-cover.jpg

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie [2015] – ★★★★★

15 September 2020 marks 130 years since the birth of Agatha Christie in 1890, and this review is meant to pay tribute to the ultimate Queen of Crime. The author of A is for Arsenic is Kathryn Harkup, a chemist by profession, who decided to plunge into all the poisons that Christie used in her books to come up with her perfect crimes. In A is for Arsenic, we first read about the scientific properties of each of the poisons used by Christie in her fiction, from arsenic and belladonna to opium and phosphorus (including their histories and the ways they kill), before the author illuminates the real cases involving these poisons, and finally talks about the fictitious cases in Agatha Christie’s books. It is clear that reading about different poisons has never been as morbidly fun or interesting as with this book since Harkup is an intelligent and succinct writer with a great sense of humour. A is for Arsenic is sure to fascinate and delight this Halloween season.

Continue reading “Review: A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup”

Victory Day: 9th May

It is Victory Day in Russia (my homeland), and I thought I would post a tribute especially since today marks 75 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany and the end of the World War II in Europe. My grandparents lived through the WWII (for example, my grandfather on my mother’s side was a paratrooper (a military parachutist) and was involved in many WWII operations and my grandmother on my mother’s side worked in trenches). Some heroic actions are less evident than others and some heroes remain either unknown or forgotten. I have always found it touching when children or young teenagers distinguished themselves as heroes of war. Although there were many such examples, below, I would like to briefly talk about Zinaida Portnova.  Continue reading “Victory Day: 9th May”

José Saramago (16 November 1922 – 18 June 2010)

Jose Saramago PictureSome of my favourite and most beloved people were born in November (my twin brother too!), as well as a parade of my favourite authors: Albert Camus (7th), Kazuo Ishiguro (8th), Margaret Mitchell (8th), Kurt Vonnegut (11th), Robert Louis Stevenson (13th), Vera Caspary (13th), Arundhati Roy (24th), etc. Jose Saramago, a Portuguese author and a Nobel Prize winner, is known for his through-provoking fiction stories that often ask philosophical questions and detail interesting psychological situations. My favourite books of his are The Cave [2000], The Double [2002], Blindness [1995] and Death with Interruptions [2005], which I all recommend.

“Some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters.”

“Words that come from the heart are never spoken, they get caught in the throat and can only be read in one’s eyes” (José Saramago).

Gabriel Yared: The English Patient

My favourite film composer Gabriel Yared (1949-) is 70 years old today, and I am taking this opportunity to pay tribute to him by sharing his musical masterpiece below. Born in Beirut, Yared gained his law degree before switching to music composition while studying in France. Apart from The English Patient, Gabriel Yared is also known as a composer for such films as Betty Blue, Camille Claudel, The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain.

Victor Hugo – Notre-Dame de Paris

The Hunchback of Notre Dame CoverEach face, each stone, of this venerable monument, is a page of the history, not only of the country, but of the science and the art” (Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame [1831: 110]).

It was a singular destiny…for the church of Notre-Dame, at that period, to be thus beloved in two different ways, and with so much devotion, by two beings so unlike as Claude and Quasimodo – loved by the one, a sort of half-human creature, instinctive and savage, for its beauty, for its stature, for the harmonies dwelling in the magnificent whole; loved by the other, a being of cultivated and ardent imagination, for its signification, its mystic meaning, the symbolic language lurking under the sculpture on its front, like the first text under the second in a palimpsestus – in short, for the enigma which it eternally proposes to the understanding” (Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame [1831: 155]). 

Solitaire

Neil Sedaka (1939-), an American singer, composer and producer, is 80 years old today. He is a writer or co-writer of more than 500 songs, and was also a popular singer with some serious hits under his belt. In 1972, Sedaka co-wrote with Phil Cody a beautiful song Solitaire, and it was later famously performed by The Carpenters. The audio below is the performance by Mark Lanegan, an alternative rock artist who I consider to be rather underrated (see the greatest cover of the song Man in the Long Black Coat). Lanegan’s album Imitations [2013] is composed of song covers that he heard when growing up at his parents’ home.