Coronavirus has put half of the world in quarantine, leaving us time to think, doing things we have thought of doing but never seemed to find the time, like reading.
Death in Venice (German: Der Tod in Venedig), 1912
Death in Venice is a novella written by the German author Thomas Mann and was first published in 1912 as Der Tod in Venedig. The work presents a great writer suffering writer's block who visits Venice and is liberated, uplifted, and then increasingly obsessed, by the sight of a stunningly beautiful youth. Though he never speaks to the boy, much less touches him, the writer finds himself drawn deep into ruinous inward passion; meanwhile, Venice, and finally, the writer himself, succumb to a cholera plague.
The main character is Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous author in his early fifties who has recently been ennobled in honor of his artistic achievement (thus acquiring the aristocratic "von" in his name). He is a man dedicated to his art, disciplined and ascetic to the point of severity, who was widowed at a young age. As the story opens, he is strolling outside a cemetery and sees a coarse-looking red-haired foreigner who stares back at him belligerently. Aschenbach walks away, embarrassed but curiously stimulated. He has a vision of a primordial swamp-wilderness, fertile, exotic and full of lurking danger. Soon afterwards, he resolves to take a holiday.
After a false start in traveling to Pula on the Austro-Hungarian coast, Aschenbach realizes he was "meant" to go to Venice and takes a suite in the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido island.
Aschenbach checks into his hotel, where at dinner he sees an aristocratic Polish family at a near-by table. Among them is an adolescent boy of about fourteen in a sailor suit. Aschenbach, startled, realizes that the boy is supremely beautiful, like a Greek sculpture. His older sisters, by contrast, are so severely dressed that they look like nuns. Later, after spying the boy and his family at a beach, Aschenbach overhears the lad's name, Tadzio, and conceives what he first interprets as an uplifting, artistic interest.(Tadzio, the boy in the story, is the nickname for the Polish name Tadeusz and based on a boy Mann had seen during his visit to Venice in 1911.)
Soon the hot, humid weather begins to affect Aschenbach's health, and he decides to leave early and move to a cooler location. On the morning of his planned departure, he sees Tadzio again, and a powerful feeling of regret sweeps over him. When he reaches the railway station and discovers his trunk has been misplaced, he pretends to be angry, but is really overjoyed; he decides to remain in Venice and wait for his lost luggage. He happily returns to the hotel and thinks no more of leaving.
Over the next days and weeks, Aschenbach's interest in the beautiful boy develops into an obsession.
Aschenbach next takes a trip into the city of Venice, where he sees a few discreetly worded notices from the Health Department warning of an unspecified contagion and advising people to avoid eating shellfish. He smells an unfamiliar strong odour everywhere, later realising it is disinfectant. However, the authorities adamantly deny that the contagion is serious and tourists continue to wander round the city, oblivious. Aschenbach at first ignores the danger because it somehow pleases him to think that the city's disease is akin to his own hidden, corrupting passion for the boy.
Next, Aschenbach rallies his self-respect and decides to discover the reason for the health notices posted in the city. After being repeatedly assured that the sirocco is the only health risk, he finds a British travel agent who reluctantly admits that there is a serious cholera epidemic in Venice. Aschenbach considers warning Tadzio's mother of the danger; however, he decides not to, knowing that if he does, Tadzio will leave the hotel and be lost to him.
Aschenbach begins to fret about his aging face and body. In an attempt to look more attractive, he visits the hotel's barber shop almost daily, where the barber eventually persuades him to have his hair dyed and his face painted to look more youthful. Freshly dyed and rouged, he again shadows Tadzio through Venice in the oppressive heat.
A few days later, Aschenbach goes to the lobby in his hotel, feeling ill and weak, and discovers that the Polish family plan to leave after lunch. He goes down to the beach to his usual deck chair. Tadzio is there, unsupervised for once, and accompanied by an older boy, Jasiu. A fight breaks out between the two boys, and Tadzio is quickly bested; afterward, he angrily leaves his companion and wades over to Aschenbach's part of the beach, where he stands for a moment looking out to sea; then turns halfway around to look at his admirer. To Aschenbach, it is as if the boy is beckoning to him: he tries to rise and follow, only to collapse sideways into his chair.
Aschenbach's body is discovered a few minutes later.
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In 1971, the novel is made into film directed Luchino Visconti, starring Dirk Bogarde.
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The Plague (French: La Peste), 1947
The Plague (French: La Peste) is a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947, that tells the story of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran. It asks a number of questions relating to the nature of destiny and the human condition. The characters in the book, ranging from doctors to vacationers to fugitives, all help to show the effects the plague has on a populace.
The novel is believed to be based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large proportion of Oran's population in 1849 following French colonization, but the novel is set in the 1940s.
The Plague is considered an existentialist classic despite Camus' objection to the label.The narrative tone is similar to Kafka's, especially in The Trial, whose individual sentences potentially have multiple meanings; the material often pointedly resonating as stark allegory of phenomenal consciousness and the human condition.
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The Plague was made into a film in 1992, directed by Luis Puenzo, starring William Hurt, Sandrine Bonnaire, Robert Duvall, Raúl Juliá.
The Horseman on the Roof (French: Le Hussard sur le toit)
The Horseman on the Roof (French: Le Hussard sur le toit) is a 1951 adventure novel written by Jean Giono. It tells the story of Angelo Pardi, a young Italian carbonaro colonel of hussars, caught up in the 1832 cholera epidemic in Provence and fell in love with an aristocratic woman.
Perhaps no other of his novels better reveals Giono's perfect balance between lyricism and narrative, description and characterization, the epic and the particular, than The Horseman on the Roof. This novel, which Giono began writing in 1934 and which was published in 1951, expanded and solidified his reputation as one of Europe's most important writers.
This is a novel of adventure, a roman courtois, that tells the story of Angelo, a nobleman who has been forced to leave Italy because of a duel, and is returning to his homeland by way of Provence. But that region is in the grip of a cholera epidemic, travelers are being imprisoned behind barricades, and exposure to the disease is almost certain.
Angelo's escapades, adventures, and heroic self-sacrifice in this hot, hallucinatory landscape, among corpses, criminals and rioting townspeople, share this epic tale.
Le Hussard est d'abord un roman d'aventures : Angelo Pardi, jeune colonel de hussards exilé en France, est chargé d'une mission mystérieuse. Il veut retrouver Giuseppe, carbonaro comme lui, qui vit à Manosque. Mais le choléra sévit : les routes sont barrées, les villes barricadées, on met les voyageurs en quarantaine, on soupçonne Angelo d'avoir empoisonné les fontaines ! Seul refuge découvert par hasard, les toits de Manosque ! Entre ciel et terre, il observe les agitations funèbres des humains, contemple la splendeur des paysages et devient ami avec un chat. Une nuit, au cours d'une expédition, il rencontre une étonnante et merveilleuse jeune femme. Tous deux feront route ensemble, connaîtront l'amour et le renoncement.
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In 1995, it was made into a film of the same name directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau and starring Juliette Binoche and Olivier Martinez.
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Love in the Time of Cholera (Spanish: El amor en los tiempos del cólera), 1985
Love in the Time of Cholera (Spanish: El amor en los tiempos del cólera) is a novel by Colombian Nobel prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez. The novel was first published in Spanish in 1985. Alfred A. Knopf published an English translation in 1988, and an English-language movie adaptation was released in 2007.
The main characters of the novel are Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza. Florentino and Fermina fall in love in their youth. A secret relationship blossoms between the two with the help of Fermina's Aunt Escolástica. They exchange several love letters. However, once Fermina's father, Lorenzo Daza, finds out about the two, he forces his daughter to stop seeing Florentino immediately. When she refuses, he and his daughter move in with his deceased wife's family in another city. Regardless of the distance, Fermina and Florentino continue to communicate via telegraph. But upon her return, Fermina realizes that her relationship with Florentino was nothing but a dream since they are practically strangers; she breaks off her engagement to Florentino and returns all his letters.
A young and accomplished national hero, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, meets Fermina and begins to court her. Despite her initial dislike of Urbino, Fermina gives in to her father's persuasion and the security and wealth Urbino offers, and they wed. Urbino is a physician devoted to science, modernity, and "order and progress". He is committed to the eradication of cholera and to the promotion of public works. He is a rational man whose life is organized precisely and who greatly values his importance and reputation in society. He is a herald of progress and modernization.
Even after Fermina's engagement and marriage, Florentino swore to stay faithful and wait for her. However, his promiscuity gets the better of him. Even with all the women he is with, he makes sure that Fermina will never find out. Meanwhile, Fermina and Urbino grow old together, going through happy years and unhappy ones and experiencing all the reality of marriage. At an elderly age, Urbino attempts to get his pet parrot out of his mango tree, only to fall off the ladder he was standing on and die. After the funeral, Florentino proclaims his love for Fermina once again and tells her he has stayed faithful to her all these years. Hesitant at first because she is only recently widowed, and finding his advances untoward, Fermina eventually gives him a second chance. They attempt a life together, having lived two lives separately for over five decades.
Urbino proves in the end not to have been an entirely faithful husband, confessing one affair to Fermina many years into their marriage. Though the novel seems to suggest that Urbino's love for Fermina was never as spiritually chaste as Florentino's was, it also complicates Florentino's devotion by cataloging his many trysts as well as a few potentially genuine loves. By the end of the book, Fermina comes to recognize Florentino's wisdom and maturity, and their love is allowed to blossom during their old age.
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Read the book in Spanish
In 2007, Love in the Time of Cholera is made into a film directed by Mike Newell, starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno(Fermina Daza), Javier Bardem(Florentino Ariza ) and Benjamin Bratt(Doctor Juvenal Urbino).
Producer Scott Steindorff spent over three years courting Gabriel García Márquez for the rights to the book telling him that he was Florentino and would not give up until he got the rights.[
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Blindness (Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira)
Blindness (Portuguese: Ensaio sobre a cegueira, meaning Essay on Blindness) is a novel by Portuguese author José Saramago published in 1995.
It is one of his most famous novels, along with The Gospel According to Jesus Christ and Baltasar and Blimunda. In 1998, Saramago received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and Blindness was one of his works noted by the committee when announcing the award.
Blindness is the story of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness afflicting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows. The novel follows the misfortunes of a handful of characters who are among the first to be stricken and centers on "the doctor's wife," her husband, several of his patients, and assorted others, who are thrown together by chance. After lengthy and traumatic quarantine in an asylum, the group bands together in a family-like unit to survive by their wits and by the unexplained good fortune that the doctor’s wife has escaped the blindness. The sudden onset and unexplained origin and nature of the blindness cause widespread panic, and the social order rapidly unravels as the government attempts to contain the apparent contagion and keep order via increasingly repressive and inept measures.
The first part of the novel follows the experiences of the central characters in the filthy, overcrowded asylum where they and other blind people have been quarantined. Hygiene, living conditions, and morale degrade horrifically in a very short period, mirroring the society outside.
Anxiety over the availability of food, caused by delivery irregularities, acts to undermine solidarity; and lack of organization prevents the internees from fairly distributing food or chores. Soldiers assigned to guard the asylum and look after the well-being of the internees become increasingly antipathetic as one soldier after another becomes infected. The military refuse to allow in basic medicines, so that a simple infection becomes deadly. Fearing a break out, soldiers shoot down a crowd of internees waiting upon food delivery.
Conditions degenerate further as an armed clique gains control over food deliveries, subjugating their fellow internees and exposing them to rape and deprivation. Faced with starvation, internees battle each other and burn down the asylum, only to discover that the army has abandoned the asylum, after which the protagonists join the throngs of nearly helpless blind people outside who wander the devastated city and fight one another to survive.
The story then follows the doctor's wife, her husband, and their impromptu “family” as they attempt to survive outside, cared for largely by the doctor’s wife, who can still see (though she must hide this fact at first). The breakdown of society is near total. Law and order, social services, government, schools, etc., no longer function. Families have been separated and cannot find each other. People squat in abandoned buildings and scrounge for food. Violence, disease, and despair threaten to overwhelm human coping. The doctor and his wife and their new “family” eventually make a permanent home in the doctor's house and are establishing a new order to their lives when the blindness lifts from the city en masse just as suddenly and inexplicably as it struck.
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Read the book in Spanish
In 2008, the novel was made into film directed by Fernando Meirelles, with Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as the main characters. Saramago originally refused to sell the rights for a film adaptation, but the producers were able to acquire it with the condition that the film would be set in an unnamed and unrecognizable city.
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Except Love in the time of Cholera, all books are written by European authors, and also four of the five books are written by authors awarded by Nobel prize, so it seems these great writers are all obsessed with epidemic or think it is a powerful background for a good story.
And all five books have been made into movies so it will be a double visual feast to watch the movies after reading the books.