About Grace @ Cultural Life

Hello, I'm Grace. I blog about things that I love at https://culturallife.wordpress.com. Academia, language and linguistics, books, music, movies, food and travel....

Musings on a Summer Evening

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Last Night the Rain Spoke To Me
By Mary Oliver

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,

what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again

in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,

smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches

and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing

under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,

and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,
at which moment

my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars

and the soft rain—
imagine! imagine!
the wild and wondrous journeys
still to be ours.


As I go out of the door, taking my dog on the last walk of the day, my boot crushes a snail. I hear the sharp crunch and lift my boot, but it is too late. It’s pretty, with a yellow and brown striped shell. Not your average, drab common garden snail. Continue reading

A Dog – and Blog – Birthday

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Aimée is one today. The little three-month-old puppy we brought home in September has grown up into a beautiful, long-coated adult dog. Despite technically being out of puppyhood now, she isn’t trustworthy yet, as shown by her decision yesterday to take one of my best shoes off the shoe rack. Fortunately, I rescued it before she did any damage! Continue reading

Books I Read in May

May was a more varied literary month than April, with a couple of fiction books and one non-fiction title.

Bertie Guide to Life and MothersI started off the month’s reading with one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers. McCall Smith is an Edinburgh-based author who is a prolific fiction writer, well known for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana.

Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers is part of the 44 Scotland Street series, which follows various characters living and working in Edinburgh. At the heart of the series is Bertie, a young boy who is forced to cope with his pretentious mother’s overbearing approach to child rearing. Earlier in the series, she enrols him in a variety of classes, including yoga and Italian lessons, and sends him to psychotherapy.

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On My Playlist

On my playlist

A couple of months ago, I posted about some of the music on my playlist. Spotify has led me to encounter so many new artists I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise, and I’ve been listening to a lot of Spanish and Latin American music. Here are a few of my favourite tracks. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can still enjoy the music!

La Santa Cecilia

La Santa Cecilia are a Mexican-American band based in Los Angeles. They’ve won a Grammy for Best Latin Rock Album, and their music incorporates many different traditional Mexican and Latin American styles. I’d love to see them play live — it would be so much fun. Continue reading

Books I Read in April

I started reading several books in April but I didn’t finish any of them. Usually, when I have a compelling book on the go, I look forward to getting the time to read a few chapters in the evening. But my well of reading matter has run dry and I need to stock up on good books.

The first book I started reading last month was The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. I received a free digital copy from the publisher (Canongate Books in the UK) via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Lonely City cover

The premise of the book centres around a time in Olivia Laing’s life when she finds herself alone in New York after a bad break-up, having moved from the UK to be with her American boyfriend. Despite being surrounded by millions of people, loneliness in the city can be at its most acute.

“The city reveals itself as a set of cells, a hundred thousand windows, some darkened and some flooded with green or white or golden light. Inside, strangers swim to and fro, attending to the business of their private hours. You can see them, but you can’t reach them, and so this commonplace urban phenomenon, available in any city of the world on any night, conveys to even the most social a tremor of loneliness, its uneasy combination of separation and exposure” (Quote source: Goodreads)

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The Patriots by Sana Krasikov

wp-1491080294065.jpgSana Krasikov’s debut novel, The Patriots, is a compelling account of one woman’s experience in Soviet Russia under Stalin’s regime.

Florence Fein is a young, idealistic woman growing up in 1930s Brooklyn, but the capitalist ‘American Dream’ does not inspire her. With all the fervency of her youthful convictions, Florence believes that America has nothing to offer her. Instead, she emigrates to Russia to pursue her utopian ideals, and also “one particular dark-eyed Soviet man”.

As she sets sail from New York, waving her family goodbye, she is blithely unaware of the magnitude of the events that will follow her decision to emigrate. Reading The Patriots, I was impressed by her grit and tenacity, leaving her family and her native New York behind to journey thousands of miles to an industrial city, Magnitogorsk, in the Ural mountains of Russia. For a moment, as a reader, I became swept up in Florence’s girlish enthusiasm. But the knowledge of things to come soon overshadows any naive optimism you have at the beginning.

“Florence could feel a constriction in her chest…She had been foolish enough to hope that whatever she was walking into would affect no one but herself. Now the truth was catching up with her at the speed of her galloping heartbeat…Now they had summoned her. And they knew everything”


Image: Triumfalnaya Square, Moscow (1934)

Decades later, her son Julian travels to Moscow to find out the truth about his mother when her KGB file is released. For years, he struggled to understand Florence and her refusal to criticize the political regime that destroyed their family. Now, he hopes, the truth will come to light.

The book jumps between years and decades, beginning in 1934 as Florence starts her voyage, then rewinding to 1932, 1934 to 2008, 1940 to 1948… Sometimes I find that changes in chronology disrupt the flow of a narrative, but that isn’t the case with The Patriots. Once Krasikov has set up the back story for each character, the links between the plot lines become clear.

Krasikov’s characters are so vivid that you almost think you are watching events unfold on a movie screen, as one of the reviews praises on the back cover. Although the characters are fictional, the book is based on true events and Florence’s story could be viewed as a representative for one of the many Americans who were trapped in Russia during the Stalinist era, their passports confiscated and unable to leave the country.

The Patriots is a novel which encompasses many themes — identity, family, love, loyalty, self-deception and the dangers of political ideology. It’s a beautifully written epic novel, and it will certainly be one of my stand-out reads of the year.

The Patriots (2017) is published by Granta Books. I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Books I Read in March

It’s the start of another month and time for another literary round-up of the books I’ve read recently. In March, I read one non-fiction title and three novels. Let’s start with the non-fiction book: a biography of Jane Austen by historian Lucy Worsley.

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. At just forty-one, she died tragically young. The cause of her death is unknown, but some scholars have suggested Addison’s or Hodgkin’s disease. However, some new research recently came to light — it’s possible that Jane was unintentionally poisoned by arsenic, a popular ingredient in Georgian medicine.

Worsley’s book, Jane Austen at Home, is one of the publications timed to commemorate her death. I’m an Austen fan and I’ve read several well-researched biographies (Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin is one of the best), so I was already familiar with the facts of Austen’s life. However, Worsley has taken these facts, along with historical context, letters and info from other sources, and woven them into a highly enjoyable book. Continue reading

What’s on My Playlist

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The Alhambra, Spain. Photo credit: Victoriano Izquierdo at Unsplash

Since I signed up to Spotify and discovered that it suggests new music for you based on the artists you like, I’ve been branching out in my musical tastes. Logging onto Spotify and having a mosey about is like going down a veritable rabbit hole: you don’t know what you’re going to find, and you can end up somewhere that’s very different to where you started. Continue reading

Books I Read in February

Like last month, I only read two full books in February, although I’m a good portion of the way through two other books which I’m reading at the moment. The pace of my reading has slowed, and I usually only fit a few chapters in during an evening. We’ll see if this ‘two books a month’ average continues through the year. I hope not, as there is so much that I want to read and I’ll fall behind!

where-my-heart-used-to-beat

Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks was my first February read. It’s a slim novel which looks at the past of a retired doctor, Robert Hendricks. The book moves between his present-day life as a retired doctor in the 1980s, his experiences in the trenches of World War II and, later, his work as a psychiatrist in the 1960s.

The plot is hinged on a letter that our protagonist receives from a mysterious stranger, retired neurosurgeon Alexander Pereira, who invites him to a small island on the south coast of France. There, Hendricks confronts aspects of his past, and his father’s suffering in the First World War. The traumas of the twentieth century are never far from the surface. Continue reading

I Want to Spend All My Money on Books

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The Leeds Library, UK. Photo by Michael D. Beckwith. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

I won’t, of course, seeing as it wouldn’t be very practical. But, you know, a girl can dream! My idea of luxury is having a house with a dedicated reading room: somewhere with wall-to-wall books, a cosy woollen armchair, a dog to curl up by my feet and, best of all, unlimited time to read and think. An old English country estate, with a large house and extensive grounds, would suit my requirements perfectly.

But, alas, I don’t have millions in the bank, and I don’t actually spend much money on books anyway. Most of the books I read are galley copies, also known as advance reader copies (ARC), and I usually get them through publishers or NetGalley.  They are uncorrected proof copies which publishers distribute to generate some publicity and get people talking ahead of the official publication of a book.

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